Last week, the president threatened American citizens if they protested against his rally in Tulsa, Okla.

This past weekend we attended the internment of a 96 year old U.S. Army veteran at the Bakersfield National Cemetery. The Honor Guard consisted of veterans of World War II, Korean and Vietnam wars. Old soldiers standing at attention, saluting their fallen comrade: the rifle salute, the echo of "Taps," the flag presentation to the soldier’s eldest daughter, framed the significance of this ceremony.

I pondered the motivations that drew these men to sacrifice chunks of their lives to serve and defend their country. I imagined the fierce battles they were part of, the wrenching sadness they experienced when friends died, the lifetime of crushing grief families carried over the death of their special soldier.

When he was alive, our old soldier friend explained why he volunteered for World War II: “We knew we were fighting for the freedom of our country. Leaders in Japan, Russia, Italy and Germany successfully outlawed any form of civilian protest against their personal rule. Each of them used the same tricks to divide their citizens. They convinced enough of the people to support them in trying to control the rest of the world. We knew that if we lost the war, our constitution and its guarantees of freedom and justice wouldn’t be worth the paper it was written on.”

Remembering his words, observing the old soldiers as they performed the somber ceremony, my emotions unfolded — eternal gratefulness, grief, sadness, anger, resentment. Eternal gratefulness towards the veteran soldiers who defended our constitution. Grief and sadness for the millions of Americans who’ve died defending our country’s constitutional rights. Anger and resentment at the spirit embodied in the president’s threat to use hostile military action against American citizens exercising those constitutional rights all these soldiers died for.

Approaching the burial site, we passed by rows of white headstones. Glancing among the stones, my eyes fell on a familiar name, highly respected throughout Kern County and beyond. While we waited, I recalled the obituary that characterized this soldier’s life, for it mirrored the life of the friend we were about to bury. “His desires and convictions were to protect our constitution, our God-given rights and bring up the next generation with an understanding of both. He loved God and his church. He worked tirelessly to preserve the traditional values and morals that America was founded on. He was patriotic to his country.”

The soldier’s stone that caught my attention was Mark Abernathy, Captain, USAF. “Here Lies an American Hero, Husband, Father, 2 Tim. 4:7”.

As we laid Rev. B.M. Calhoon, PFC U.S. Army, to rest, I wondered if the founding American values and morals enclosed in this cemetery, will be strong enough today to save “We the People” from “Me the Leader" tomorrow? Rest in Peace, captain and PFC. We honor and appreciate your service.

Larry M. Holochwost is a retired superintendent of the South Fork Union School District.

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