A Day for Patriots: The Bombs Heard Round the World 1 Year Later, the Shot Heard Round the World 239 Years Later

That memory may their deed redeem/When, like our sires, our sons are gone/Spirit, that made those heroes dare/To die, and leave their children free/Bid Time and Nature gently spare/The shaft we raise to them and thee

—Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Concord Hymn”


Not everyone celebrates Patriots’ Day

Massachusetts, to include its secessionist Eastern District (now calling itself Maine), marks the third Monday of April with an official holiday. Elsewhere, Patriots’ Day serves as an official curiosity. At college, a New Yorker reacted to the foreign holiday with envy. He declared that the Empire State should rally behind the Giants with a public holiday, too, but sadly theorized that they wouldn’t because Jets and Bills fans might object.

The misunderstanding of Patriots’ Day as a sports holiday isn’t far off. In the early 1980s, I cheered in vain from the grass in Chestnut Hill for Bill Rogers to capture a fifth marathon crown but watched Toshihiko Seiko and Alberto Salazar win instead. I got my picture in my hometown newspaper at seven performing a Bill Rogers imitation running a Patriots’ Day 5K. And later, upon landing a job at Fenway Park, I eagerly anticipated the unusual annual a.m. game that allowed a doubleheader of baseball and marathon watching all within a few blocks. Until Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, faux champion Rosie Ruiz served as the closest thing to a villain that the Boston Marathon knew. But Patriots’ Day—the occasion for the world’s oldest annual marathon—has always had its villains.

More so than a spring sports holiday, the third Monday in April celebrates heroes.

Jason Russell proved an unlikely hero 239 years ago. Russell, living less than a mile from the house where I grew up in Arlington, and less than five miles from the one that Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev had called home in Cambridge, pivoted from farmer to patriot in just a few minutes that April. Rather than turn away his fellow Americans, he allowed them to use his home as a fortress to shield Minutemen planning to ambush the British retreating from Lexington. He could have taken offered shelter away from the fighting. But he stayed near the sound of the guns. “An Englishman’s home is his castle,” he reasoned. Alas, the ambushers became the ambushed. The British shot and bayonetted the 59-year-old to death at the door of his “castle.” His friends fell slaughtered in a basement blood pool. Jason Russell’s home still stands. The holes attesting to the fighting remain, too.

One year ago today, Carlos Arredondo, unlike Jason Russell, didn’t benefit from a Paul Revere warning him to prepare. Arredondo had made a Patriot’s Day tradition of trotting the boots of his patriot son, a Marine lance corporal who fell in Iraq on his father’s birthday, across the finish line in Copley Square. Last April 15, the cowboy-hatted immigrant passed out American flags at the event almost a decade after he destroyed the Marine van bearing the bearers of the bad news. And then the boom. Rather than bolt from the blast, he rushed to put out the fire on a flailing Jeff Bauman, applied pressure to stop the bleeding, and helped extract him from the danger zone. Arredondo reflected, “I thought of what my son went through in Iraq.” Like Jason Russell, another fiftysomething with no business in a war zone, Arredondo refused to be a bystander on Patriot’s Day. And because of it, Jeff Bauman still stands, though on artificial limbs. His wounds, like the holes in Jason Russell’s House, remain to tell a story.  

On the last Patriots’ Day, like the first, anti-Americans took exception to the patriotism. The Tsarnaevs had much to be grateful for in America. They had received upwards of six-figures worth of welfare, enjoying Section 8 housing, EBT cards, and cash. Dzhokhar received a $2,500 “City Scholarship” from Cambridge to attend the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth, where he acquired more Fs on his transcript than semesters. The taxpayers provided Tamerlan with $5,566 to attend two state-run junior colleges. The Mercedes-driving boxer preferred, like his parents, the dole to a paycheck once he started his own family. Jason Russell and Carlos Arredondo had obligations; Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, resentments.  

Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s sense of entitlement followed him to the grave, which his immediate family refused to pay for, sparking an international body-without-a-burial-place controversy until several do-gooders, including an uncle horrified by his nephew’s violent ingratitude, intervened. Jason Russell lies in a group plot alongside twelve others killed in the village of Menotomy during the first day of the American Revolution. Russell’s heroism didn’t even win him a coffin.

Though the first Boston Marathon didn’t take place until more than a century after Concord, Lexington, and the bloodier battle in which Jason Russell gave his life, the combatants on the first Patriots’ Day surely completed a marathon if not as the crow flies then certainly as the chaotic violence took them. “At length, about sunset, almost on the run, they reached Charlestown Common, where they were sheltered by the guns from the ships, and the pursuit was stopped,” John Stetson Barry wrote of the fleeing British in his three-volume History of Massachusetts. “Of the Americans, forty-nine were killed, thirty-nine were wounded, and five were missing. Of the British, seventy-three were killed, one hundred and seventy-four were wounded, and twenty-six were missing. This was the commencement of the War of the Revolution. The blood of the English and of the American had flowed; the union of the colonies with Great Britain was severed; and from this hour the era of Independence properly dates. ‘What a glorious morning is this!’ exclaimed Samuel Adams, as he heard the sound of the guns at Lexington. It was the morning of freedom. The day star of liberty had risen upon America.”

Bloodshed, sacrifice for the greater good, extraordinary acts authored by ordinary people—if Patriots’ Day took on this “new” meaning after the Boston Marathon Bombing it’s only because so many had forgotten its old meaning. What’s a first responder but a modern-day Minuteman? Who’s Carlos Arredondo but Jason Russell? Why rush to the sound of danger instead of from it save for a loyalty to something greater than oneself?

Patriots give beyond the expected. Traitors take beyond decency. Is it any wonder that a day celebrating the former virtue so irritated those suffering from the latter vice?

Daniel J. Flynn, author of A Conservative History of the American Left, Blue Collar Intellectuals: When the Enlightened and the Everyman Elevated America, and other books, edits Breitbart Sports.


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