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I Give You America


Bob Hyman

Here is an old postage stamp, a 4-cent variety from 1957. It was given to me at a Scout meeting long ago. Back then, that's all it took to mail a letter. A lot of things have changed since then - some things haven't. On the stamp is a picture of the American Flag, the old one with just 48 stars. Even the flag has changed, but not what it stands for.

The story of this stamp begins with a man, born about 1880, in a part of the mid eastern world we today know as Syria. His name was Ali Mohamed Hammid. When he was a young man, he left his family and everything he knew to come to the United States. He was a good man, a devout Muslim, and he wanted a life with freedom. He worked for many years as a coal miner.

He raised a large family including four sons named Mustaffa, Hassan, Yusef, and Abdula. The sons went by the Americanized versions of their names: Sam, Skip, Joe and Burton. During World War II, all four of them joined the Army; two fought in Europe, the other two in the Pacific.

When I was a young boy, we lived next door to Mr. Hammid. By then he was an old man and no longer worked in the mines. He spent his days quietly at home, working in the garden or just sitting on the back porch. He never learned to read or write, and only knew a few words of English. Because he was illiterate, he was never allowed to become an American citizen; but he was probably the most patriotic man I have ever known. Every morning, he would raise the American Flag in his yard, and every evening he would reverently take it down, fold it and put it away. Sometimes I would get up early and go over to help him. We would sit on the porch and he would tell me stories about the Statue of Liberty in New York harbor that was his first glimpse of America.

His son Yusef was my Scout Leader. Mr. Hammid sometimes came to our Scout meetings.  He would sit quietly in the back of the room and smile as we went through our Scouting activities. He especially liked our flag ceremonies. One night after a meeting, he came up to me and in his outstretched hand was this stamp. He offered it to me and in broken English he said, "I give to you America. Enjoy it ... love it ... protect it. Have many sons and pass it on to them."

I looked up at my Leader, not sure what to say or do. The other Scouts called him by his American name - either Joe, or Mr. Hyman. I just called him Dad. He smiled and said, "Take it son, it's the greatest gift you'll ever receive." I took the stamp from my Grandfather's hand.

I've carried it with me since then. Through times of war and times of peace the flag on this stamp has always reminded me of just what being an American is all about. My Grandfather taught me many things. From him I learned that you can't judge a person's patriotism by where they're from or how they pronounce their name - that the color of their skin or the religion they practice are unimportant. I learned that freedom is something that must be cherished and nurtured, if it is to be successfully passed on to the next generation.

Since the horrific events of 9/11, we have all seen many flags; on buildings, along the streets, in sports stadiums, and on television. Some were proudly waving high, some were solemnly flying at half-mast, and some were reverently draped over coffins. They all remind us of our rights and responsibilities as Americans. As you look at the Flag on this stamp, I want to leave you with the same words that set my course many years ago: I give you America. Enjoy it...protect it. And pass it on to your children.

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