Early morning, March 16, 1968. US Army helicopter pilot Hugh Thompson Jr. from Stone Mountain, Georgia, a former Boy Scout and the son of a WWII veteran, was flying recon support for a US Army infantry assault on a hamlet known as My Lai in South Vietnam. Encountering no enemy fire, Thompson's crew captured two possible Vietcong, flew them back to base and refueled. Returning to My Lai, Thompson and his men, crew chief Glenn Andreotta from St. Louis and door-gunner Larry Colburn from Washington state wereflying back and forth, reconning in front and in the rear, and it didn't take very long until "we started noticing the large number of bodies everywhere." Hovering closer over an irrigation ditch, they watched Capt. Ernest Medina kick a woman lying on the ground, then shoot her. Seeing what looked to be many more women and children lined up dead in the ditch, Thompson radioed his accompanying gunships, knowing his transmission would be monitored: "It looks to me like there's an awful lot of unnecessary killing going on down there. Something ain't right about this. There's bodies everywhere. There's a ditch full of bodies that we saw. There's something wrong here."
The Infantryman, author unknown
A little known but Great American, is former CIA agent and 2016 independent conservative presidential candidate Evan McMullin. In a recent New York Times op-ed he wrote that we can no longer assume that all Americans understand the origins of their rights and the importance of liberal democracy. We need a new era of civic engagement that will reawaken us to the cause of liberty and equality. That engagement must extend to ensuring that our elected representatives uphold the Constitution, in deed and discourse -- even if doing so puts them at odds with their party. We cannot allow any elected official to normalize the idea that he is the ultimate arbiter of our rights. Those who can will need to speak out boldly and suffer possible retaliation. Others will need to offer hands of kindness and friendship across the traditional political divide, as well as to those who may become targets because of who they are or what they believe. Those who understand the cause are called to the work, which I hope will unify and bless our nation in time.
Lewis Hine is a Great American and while his name is not well-known, his work is recognized around the world. Born in Oshkosh, Wisconsin on September 26, 1874, Lewis went on to study sociology at the University of Chicago, Columbia University and NYU. While teaching social work in New York, Hine incorporated his photography hobby into his work by taking his classes on picture taking field trips to Ellis Island and work places. Always motivated to help workers, it dawned on Hine that documenting workers in photographs may inspire pressure to improve their working conditions.
Ironworkers are great Americans who literally built America. By the late 1880s, wood and stone supported bridges and buildings were replaced by steel as the primary load-carrying material. Out of this building revolution, a new worker was born, the ironworker. Ironworkers risked their lives to build the backbone of this country, whether in New York City skyscrapers or bridges that supported the roads and ultimately the highways for cars. In order to get fair employment treatment, ironworkers united, forming the International Association of Bridge and Structural Iron Workers of America in 1896 in Pittsburgh, which is appropriate since that is where Andrew Carnegie was.
After winning independence, the thirteen states were loosely connected by the Articles of Confederation without a strong central government. Many founding fathers believed in order to form a Union, the Articles needed to be replaced with a constitution. Not everyone agreed. Responding to the argument that reason favored voting for a new constitution, George Washington wrote:
Setting aside for the moment political and ideological considerations, it is with honor and reverence to note the passing of Justice Antonin Scalia, a Great American who died Saturday after serving on the United States Supreme Court for 30 years. For better or worse, and often in dissent, Justice Scalia had as large a mark on the court and on American law and politics as any justice since Earl Warren, Charles Evans Hughes and John Marshall. As a constitutional originalist and a statutory textualist, Justice Scalia opposed much of the social and political progress of the late 20th century. Ostensibly, Justice Scalia did not believe the constitution is a living document to be interpreted in the context of current times. He felt that if it needed updated to accommodate modern thinking or even technology, that it should be amended by the representatives of the people. Unfortunately, Justice Scalia's legal decisions had cold, hard consequences for too many people, and this is despite the fact that personally he was a warm, caring and gregarious human being - close friends with his ideological opposite, the notorious RGB, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. But its not that simple. As with most people, Justice Scalia did let his values infuse his decisions. He used his originalist methodology as a shield which he could deftly drop in order to launch an argument that suited his conservative philosophy. A flawed, but Great American, perhaps he could have rounded his rough edges if he had real world experience representing living, breathing clients with real legal problems.
On this New Year's its appropriate to note great American Ben Franklin's list of 13 virtues, with which he sought to cultivate his character, exemplify American values: