Although it would be impossible, given that he was born around 1895, I sometimes wish my grandfather, Michael Koretzky, were alive today, just to get his take on what is going on in America.
My grandfather was born in the Ukraine, to Poles who were living there. At the time, the area was part of the Russian empire and Tsar Nicolas II was its autocrat. My grandfather told me stories of his boyhood - by imperial edict of the tsar, he was not allowed to speak Polish, he was not allowed to learn his culture, and his Catholicism was suppressed. My grandfather told me that certain "laborers" were actually underground Catholic priests, and he recalled being woken up as a child and brought to a barn, there to learn secretly his catechism, and Polish language and culture.
World War I broke out and my grandfather became a foot soldier in the Russian army. He spent some time in a OW camp in Hungary, during which time the Russian Revolution occurred. My grandfather now found himself on the side of the White Russians against the Bolsheviks. When it appeared that it was either stay and die or go, he began to work his way through Europe, eventually arriving at Ellis Island in New York harbor in 1921.
During the tenure of Franklin Delano Roosevelt - whom Grandpa thought was another Bolshevik - he achieved what was, for him, his finest accomplishment: he became a naturalized American citizen. The United States of America was his great love. He never missed an Election Day - the right to vote was too dear to waste. Every morning he stepped out on the porch of our house on Perry Avenue in the Bronx to fly his flag, with great pride. I recall his reaction when Neil Armstrong stepped out onto the Moon: "We beat them! We beat them damn Communists!" In the basement of our home, Grandpa had a workshop. One day I needed to get a nail to hang a poster and went into it. I found a composition notebook that was open to a page on which my grandfather had written, over and over, "My name is Michael Koretzky. I am an American citizen." He was practicing his English. I am getting as teary-eyed now, recalling that moment, as I did when I saw the notebook.
What would Grandpa say today, on this Independence Day? To be sure, he would still tell you what a great and magnificent country this is, one that welcomed an immigrant like him and allowed him to accumulate a comfortable home from which he could walk, without fear or intimidation, a few blocks to P.S. 56 to vote or, more importantly, to St. Brendan's Church each Sunday to worship. A natural handyman, I think he would have embraced today's technology, delighting in a smartphone, and would have held a man such as Steve Jobs in high esteem. Grandpa could grow anything and I suspect during the time I lived in California e would have visited and stayed, excited by having a year-round growing season - and eaten a lot of fish, since he would have seen the fishermen sitting on the pier at Newport Beach and asked, in his thick accent, "Why we buy when is free?" He enjoyed car travel, and knowing he could move freely about the country on a wide system of interstates - with no checkpoints or police road blocks as the norm - is something in which he took great pride.
But he would also be worried. I have no doubt that he would have regarded Barack Obama and his administration and pronounced them to be Bolsheviks. During the 60's and 70's, the growing welfare state alarmed him - Grandpa loved people and went out of his way to help anyone, but as someone who worked hard, he understood that there was a human dignity inherent in providing for yourself and your family, and when the government took that away from you, you became a slave to the State. The growing number of such slaves today would discourage him, and urban areas such as Detroit, Chicago, Memphis, New York, and Los Angeles he would see as the new gulags.
Immigration would be problematic to him. He waited in France for some time before a cousin finally sponsored him to come to America. Perhaps because of his "dual citizenry" growing up, Grandpa assimilated without losing his Polish culture - he was proud to be an American of Polish ancestry and neither was incompatible with the other. Seeing young Mexican-Americans - many of whom were born in the United States - flipping off a photojournalist and raising the Mexican flag while desecrating the American one would have disgusted him, more than likely enraged him, both at those who were doing it and at the complacency of those watching them do so.
Ah, complacency - I think Grandpa would have been frustrated by that today. Grandpa never received much of a formal education, but he was a smart man and one who could quickly analyze a situation. I think Grandpa would not be happy with the recent decisions by the Supreme Court with regard to DOMA and Prop 8, not because he hated homosexuals but because he would see "tolerance" being implemented to bring about the gradual destruction of traditional values and institutions, and not simply marriage but he would also be shrewd enough to see how a social agenda had infiltrated the classroom and even the body of the American Psychiatric Association. The HHS mandates would infuriate him, wondering how it came to be in his country that the government not merely suppressed the exercise of a person's religion but forced that person to act counter to their faith. He lived long enough to see abortion legalized - and he knew it to be evil. And I can imagine him standing up and asking those around him, "Don't you see what is happening?!" Because Grandpa saw this happen before. He would know from experience where this all leads. Perhaps the Bolsheviks did not have the technology of the NSA today . . . but the ends are the same. Grandpa would see that.
Today we celebrate men similar to my grandfather, men who picked up a musket against tyranny, even if it meant the cost of their life. Men who knew that the State should be protecting an individual's rights for that person to achieve, not merely subsist. The American revolutionaries fought for freedom. So did Grandpa. And today, I have to wonder if the old man would be sitting in his basement workshop, reworking the trigger on his rifle.
God bless America. Know that our country has a champion in Heaven, praying for her freedoms, in Michael Koretzky.