That memory maytheir deed redeem/When, like our sires, our sons are gone/Spirit, that madethose heroes dare/To die, and leave their children free/Bid Time and Naturegently spare/The shaft we raise to them and thee
–Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Concord Hymn”
Not everyone celebrates Patriots’ Day
Massachusetts, to include its secessionist EasternDistrict (now calling itself Maine), marks the third Monday of April with anofficial holiday. Elsewhere, Patriots’ Day serves as an official curiosity. Atcollege, a New Yorker reacted to the foreign holiday with envy. He declaredthat 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 mightobject.
The misunderstanding of Patriots’ Day as a sportsholiday 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 watchedToshihiko Seiko and Alberto Salazar win instead. I got my picture in my hometownnewspaper at seven performing a Bill Rogers imitation running a Patriots’ Day5K. And later, upon landing a job at Fenway Park, I eagerly anticipated the unusualannual a.m. game that allowed a doubleheader of baseball and marathon watchingall within a few blocks. Until Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, faux champion RosieRuiz served as the closest thing to a villain that the Boston Marathon knew. ButPatriots’ Day–the occasion for the world’s oldest annual marathon–has alwayshad its villains.
More so than a spring sports holiday, the thirdMonday 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, andless than five miles from the one that Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev had calledhome 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 afortress to shield Minutemen planning to ambush the British retreating fromLexington. He could have taken offered shelter away from the fighting. But hestayed near the sound of the guns. “An Englishman’s home is his castle,” hereasoned. Alas, the ambushers became the ambushed. The British shot and bayonettedthe 59-year-old to death at the door of his “castle.” His friends fell slaughteredin a basement blood pool. Jason Russell’s home still stands. The holesattesting 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 hispatriot 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 outAmerican flags at the event almost a decade after he destroyed the Marine vanbearing the bearers of the bad news. And then the boom. Rather than bolt fromthe 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 dangerzone. Arredondoreflected, “I thought of what my son went through in Iraq.” Like JasonRussell, another fiftysomething with no business in a war zone, Arredondorefused to be a bystander on Patriot’s Day. And because of it, Jeff Baumanstill stands, though on artificial limbs. His wounds, like the holes in JasonRussell’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 begrateful for in America. They had received upwards of six-figures worth of welfare,enjoying Section 8 housing, EBT cards, and cash. Dzhokhar received a $2,500Dartmouth, where he acquired more Fs on his transcript than semesters. Thetaxpayers provided Tamerlan with $5,566 to attend two state-run juniorcolleges. The Mercedes-driving boxer preferred, like his parents, the dole to apaycheck once he started his own family. Jason Russell and Carlos Arredondo had obligations; Tamerlan and DzhokharTsarnaev, resentments.
Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s sense of entitlement followedhim to the grave, which his immediate family refused to pay for, sparking aninternational 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 thevillage of Menotomy during the first day of the American Revolution. Russell’sheroism didn’t even win him a coffin.
Though the first Boston Marathon didn’t take placeuntil more than a century after Concord, Lexington, and the bloodier battle inwhich Jason Russell gave his life, the combatants on the first Patriots’ Daysurely completed a marathon if not as the crow flies then certainly as the chaoticviolence took them. “At length, about sunset, almost on the run, they reachedCharlestown Common, where they were sheltered by the guns from the ships, andthe pursuit was stopped,” John Stetson Barry wrote of the fleeing British inhis three-volume History of Massachusetts.were missing. Of the British, seventy-three were killed, one hundred andseventy-four were wounded, and twenty-six were missing. This was the commencementof the War of the Revolution. The blood of the English and of the American hadflowed; the union of the colonies with Great Britain was severed; and from thishour 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 wasthe 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 thisits old meaning. What’s a first responder but a modern-day Minuteman? Who’s Carlos Arredondo but Jason Russell? Why rush to thesound of danger instead of from it save for a loyalty to something greater thanoneself?
Patriots give beyond the expected. Traitors takebeyond decency. Is it any wonder that a day celebrating the former virtue soirritated those suffering from the latter vice?
Daniel J. Flynn,author ofA Conservative History of the American Left, Blue Collar Intellectuals: When the Enlightened and the Everyman Elevated America, and other books, edits Breitbart Sports.