Wednesday, July 04, 2001

Old Glory

First kiss not usual romance

        One kiss. That's how an unknown patriot showed his love for his new country.

        With his kiss came a gentle reminder. The freedoms Americans so often take for granted are indeed precious. That's worth pondering on the Fourth of July, a holiday known more for picnics and fireworks than meditations on patriotism.

        The unknown patriot was a freshly minted American. He had just become a naturalized citizen of the United States.

        Pledging his allegiance to America, he stood in the Cincinnati Country Day School auditorium. With 77 other new Americans — coming from 33 countries — he walked on stage to receive a certificate of citizenship.

        U.S. District Judge Susan Dlott did the honors for the May 25 ceremony. She gave him the certificate, shook his hand and wished him good luck.

        The judge always tears up when she presides over these proceedings. She's the granddaughter of four Russian immigrants.

        Facing the group of new Americans, she recalls memories from her past and sees hope for the future. She remembers her grandparents, their struggles and triumphs. The faces in the group, young and old, black and white, Asian and Hispanic, deliver a potent message.

        “They tell me,” the judge said, “America is still a melting pot, a land of dreams and opportunity.”

New countryman
        One of those faces belonged to the unknown patriot. Clutching his certificate, this tall, 60ish man with thinning hair walked across the auditorium's stage.

        Along with the other new citizens, he received a flag from members of the Cincinnati Bar Association Auxiliary. Doing their part to make Cincinnati “Flag Town, USA,” auxiliary members raise funds so they can hand out 3-foot-by-5-foot flags — suitable for flying with rope, pole and hardware — for free.

        The man accepted the flag. Then he did something none of the participants ever had seen at these proceedings.

        Before leaving the stage, he paused by a flag on a pole in a stand.

        He bowed slightly and whispered, “God Bless America.”

        Then, he kissed the flag.

First kiss
        Jo Curry, an auxiliary member, saw the kiss. She's handed out flags at 60 naturalization ceremonies. Never has she seen anyone kiss Old Glory.

        She tried to catch up with the man. Jo had a story from her family lore about another patriot's kiss. Her father left behind his native Italy and landed on Ellis Island in 1921. His first act in America? Kiss the ground.

        The auditorium's stage on that May day was crowded. Other naturalized citizens were picking up their flags.

        And, the man walked fast. Zoom! He was gone. Lost in the crowd.

        Since then, Jo, Judge Dlott, her administrative assistant Noemi Fisk and other federal employees have been unable to find the unknown patriot.

        That's fitting. He's an American now. Here, nobody follows you, keeps track of whom you talk to, what you do, where you go.

        Proves how lucky we are in America. The Declaration of Independence was adopted on this date 225 years ago.

        Ever since, this has been a place where you are free to kiss the flag. Then, go on with your life.

       Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379; fax 768-8340. To contribute to the Cincinnati Bar Association Auxiliary's flag fund, call 729-3417.


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