Last week, I was honored to speak at the Los Angeles chapter of the Daedalians at their monthly luncheon. They’re an organization of current and former military pilots and aviators and I gave what I call my “Grandpa, What did you do during the Vietnam War?” talk.
The location was the Los Angeles Air Force Base – I’ll bet many of you, including me – didn’t know there was an Air Force Base in LA. While I was speaking, I noticed two of the servers were standing in the back, long after the tables were cleared. After all the members left and I was packing my books, one of the women came up to me and tells me her son wants to apply for an NROTC scholarship and wants to be a Navy helicopter pilot. She was familiar with some of the steps, but not all of them.
I asked her the usual questions about what year of high school did he just complete (junior year); GPA (close to 4.0 including honor and AP classes); class standing (top 5%); sports (he played soccer for a club team and his high school); and leadership (captain of his club team and a class officer). As it turns out, he lives in Houston with her parents and wants to go to Texas A&M.
My thinking is the kid’s got the basic qualifications and we talked about how to apply for a ROTC scholarship with any of the services. She took some notes and asked a few questions. Satisfied, with my answers, she tells me, her son will be the first person in their family to go to college and they want to do something for the country that opened its arms to them. Curious, I asked her where was she from.
She, along with her husband and children – two boys and a girl all under the age of six – arrived from Honduras in 2004. Her husband enlisted in the Army because it was the fastest path to U.S. citizenship. I didn’t ask how she got there but to get a job on a U.S. Base, one has to be a citizen or at least have a green card.
I said welcome to the United States and she says when they left Honduras, political and particularly economic conditions were really bad. Without prompting, she tells me her family is /was one of the lucky ones who got here. In Honduras, she said America is referred to as “the cow” because people can come here and milk it to get wealthy! Then, she went on to say, “I don’t mean that in a bad way like I came to the U.S. to live on welfare, it is a place where one is free to do what one wants and if you are good and work hard, you will make a better life for your children and your grandchildren.”
It was a poignant reminder the inscription on the base of the Statue of Liberty. It is as true today as it was when Emma Lazarus wrote it on November 2nd, 1883. Here it is in its entirety:
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!