God Bless America . . . and Remember Italy, Too!

God Bless America . . . and Remember Italy, Too!

From Chicken Soup for the Military Wife's Soul

God Bless America . . .
and Remember Italy, Too!

Culture is both an intellectual phenomenon and a moral one.

Raisa Gorbachev

My husband is in the navy, and, in January 2003, we were transferred to Gaeta, Italy. The culture shock was unbelievable. It took a long time to get used to things, and soon after my husband moved us here, he was shipped out. My four children and I were alone in this strange world. I had to get used to the people, the driving and the food. While I was out having a meal, asking myself if it was all worth it, an old man walked up and asked if he could join me. I agreed, smiling, and he pulled up a chair.

When he found out that I was an American, he beamed. In his limited English, he said, “Oh! How I love America!” I could barely understand him, but he spoke with such love and emotion that I clung to every word he said, afraid that I might miss something. He told me that he comes to the American base in Gaeta to see the two flags side by side: the Italian flag and Old Glory, flying together. Every time he sees an American flag, he lowers his head and prays, and he always ends his prayer with: “God bless America, and God remember Italy, too!”

He grew up here in Gaeta, and his family suffered during the war. He told me how the Germans took everything his family had, including their home. They nearly starved to death. He dug into trash cans to look for food for his family. Some of them were sick, and it seemed as if they would die. My new friend said that he prayed to God to save them—and God sent the American troops. The way he saw it, the troops didn’t come to invade Italy, but to save him and his family.

The old man trembled as he talked, pausing several times to fight back the tears. I was trying hard to fight back my own tears, but it was a losing battle.

A young navy doctor saw him digging in the trash and went home with him, bringing food and medicine to his family. “I was much too sick already,” said the old man. “The medicine didn’t help me, and for three days I was in a coma.” When he woke up, his father had told him that the navy doctor had never left his side during those three days. That doctor saved his life. His father wept, saying, “I will always love America, because my son was dead, and America came and brought him back to me.”

It would be many years before this man even learned the name of the doctor who had saved his life, but he never forgot him, nor did he ever stop loving his beloved America.

After he grew up and married, he went to visit his beautiful America. He visited Washington, and there he saw some young people burning Old Glory. His voice was shaking. His emotions grew raw. He looked at me with huge tears in his eyes, and told me how it hurt his heart to see that beautiful old flag being burned. He touched his wife’s hand and asked her to stay where she was. This Italian man walked over to the Americans who were burning the flag and asked them, “Why?” They began to explain their protest, and he simply said, “But why must you burn Old Glory? She stands for all that I love, and I owe her my life.” He shared his story with them, and their heads hung down. They extinguished the flames, gave him the burned remains of the flag and walked away.

By this time my face was soaked with tears. His story bridged the differences I had been seeing in our two worlds. I saw the beauty of the countryside with new eyes. I don’t remember the name of the man who forever changed my heart and touched my spirit, but not a day goes by that I don’t think about him. Every time I drive to our base in Italy, I see our two flags flying, side by side. I bow my head, and I pray, and I always end my prayer with: “God bless America, and God . . . remember Italy, too!”

Stacy Smith Kirchheiner

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