On March 26, I was watching the Kids’ Choice Awards with my 8-year-old twins on Viacom’s Nickelodeon, which for 30 years has been the No. 1 entertainment brand for kids. It was dedicated to the Big Green Help environmental campaign and “going green” for Earth Day awareness. Leonardo DiCaprio was honored for his green work. Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson was the host, and my fellow Hollywood stars and musicians came out in full force.
An impressive commitment was shown to keeping the message of Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” as a battle cry for our youths’ participation in protecting Mother Earth from global warming and pollution. My children were enthusiastic. I was confused. Something bothered me, and I could not put my finger on why – until Memorial Day weekend.
It started on Saturday morning, when I took my 8-year-old son, Nicholas, who is a Cub Scout, to the Los Angeles National Cemetery. About 2,700 Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, from Cub to Eagle, convened to place flags on more than 84,000 gravesites of America’s finest. It was a moving, profound experience.
One would expect a lot of running and playing among these youngsters as they performed their task. But, no. At each site, they stood at attention, recited the name of the service member and then saluted. Within two hours, 84,000 flags proudly waved in the gentle breeze.
I have passed this cemetery for years and wondered who placed those flags, and how, from a sea of white stones, the Stars and Stripes overnight come and beautifully decorate this hallowed ground. All across this great nation, I picture the same scene and the beauty of these young boys and girls honoring those who have protected the privilege of our magnificent democracy and freedoms.
This Memorial Day, I had the honor of being part of the program at this cemetery. joining Robert Forster, Jon Voight, David Horowitz, Bill Sachs and Maj. Gen. JamesW. Comstock. The general had asked all to remember the first time he or she understood or felt patriotic. As I sat waiting my turn to speak, I reflected on mine. My father was a Navy gunner on a merchant marine ship during World War II. His ship was torpedoed in the Pacific, and he was in the water for three days. He lost some of his close friends and was awarded the Purple Heart.
My earliest recollections of my dad were that on every Memorial Day, Veterans Day and Independence Day until the day he died at age 57, he wore his Navy uniform and raised the flag in our front yard. I remember his solemn pride on those days. He also upset my mother a bit because he still fit in his uniform and had not gained any weight over the years. And, well, she had.
My father often talked of the pride he had for his father, who had come from Sicily and enlisted in the Infantry during World War I. His father also had been awarded the Purple Heart and the Oak Leaf Cluster, which is bestowed on military awards when exceptional conduct is recognized.
Looking out at the sea of faces on Memorial Day, the great beautiful faces of those who understand sacrifice and love our country, I could not help but think of the millions of families connected to the military either by serving or through family history. By contrast, neither President Obama nor Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. had a parent in the military.
In no way do I suggest that such a connection is a criterion for love of country, but it certainly can affect how one might feel about the military and its history. Certainly, the vice president does have the experience of having a son who is serving.
Interestingly, Mr. Obama’s maternal grandfather fought in World War II, but Mr. Obama often dismisses his grandfather’s beliefs in his book “Dreams From My Father,” saying his grandparents knew nothing of the real violence in the world. He wrote that his grandfather had never seen “real combat” and had a “tendency to rewrite history to conform to the image he wished for himself.”
During the election, however, many media outlets, including the New Republic, Time magazine and the Huffington Post, fawned over Mr. Obama’s “military pedigree” and “World War II connection,” though Mr. Obama himself casually dismissed his grandfather’s service.
Our fathers and mothers have a great deal of influence over our thinking. We must use their meaningful history and pride to appeal to the Hollywood community, to Nickelodeon, Disney, Universal, Paramount, Warner Bros. and others.
We should have the same unifying message for our youth today and educate them on the love, honor, sacrifice, pride and patriotism of the military with as much vim and vigor as on Earth Day and in the Big Green Help campaign.
We need a call to arms, like that of the Nickelodeon’s Kids’ Choice Awards, and spend from 10:30 a.m. until 9 p.m. with programming that would excite our children with the stirring message of our nation’s heroes and their powerful stories of honor and sacrifice.
They know enough about “going green,” so why not go red, white and blue for future Memorial Days? Let’s start on July Fourth, Independence Day, so that by next Memorial Day, perhaps Nickelodeon will heed our call and put together a program that will bring education, encouragement and patriotism to our youth.
Let’s make it as cool to plug-in to patriotism as it is to unplug to save energy.
Robert Davi is an actor-director best known for his roles in “Die Hard,” “License to Kill,” “The Goonies,” “Predator 2,” the series “Profiler” and “Stargate Atlantis” and his directorial debut of the award-winning film “The Dukes.” His new film, “Magic,” will be in theaters later this year.