I have always been proud of my country and proud to be an American, but never more so than when we were stationed at a NATO base in Sardegna, Italy when the Gulf War started. We all knew it was coming, but we had no phones, so the official word came from an AF security policeman who came to our house and told my husband he should report to the base immediately. (There was no base housing. We all lived in small Italian villages close to the base.) Family members had been told in advance that our military spouses could be on base for several days, and we should all stay indoors with blinds drawn and doors locked until further notice. No one knew for sure how the locals would react, and there were concerns about certain factions in the area.
For two days, my son and I stayed indoors, living in virtual darkness, watching CNN on the Air Force Network. Since there was no way for my husband to call me, my anxiety level was high, although I worked hard to keep my son from seeing that fear.
On the second day, our Italian landlord came to tell me he was installing a new door with a new lock at the ground floor entrance to our building. He also installed a buzzer/intercom system at our door and the front gate, so anyone trying to get in would have to be buzzed in by me. He also told me that he would leave his German shepherd, Rocky, in the yard for extra protection. He patted me on the shoulder, told me not to worry, and left.
On our third day of seclusion, I very nearly jumped out of my skin when the intercom buzzer went off. I ran to the front window to peek out and see who it was, and I was surprised to see three of our Italian neighbor ladies carrying containers. I cautiously went out on the balcony to ask if they were there to see me, and eventually made out they were trying to tell me they were worried about us because they hadn’t seen us in a couple of days. I buzzed them in, and they noisily ascended the stairs, and proceeded to pile all kinds of cakes, pasta dishes, fruit, and vegetables onto the dining room table. They spoke no English and I spoke limited Italian, but they told me not to worry, because everyone in the village loved Americans and President Bush and that he was “molto intelligente.” Then, they all had to hug us and kiss us on both cheeks before leaving.
There we were, foreigners in a strange land, not knowing what the next hour would bring, or even who we could trust. And those wonderful women went out of their way to reassure us, comfort us, and even feed us. To say I was overwhelmed by their graciousness and thoughtfulness would be an understatement.
That was the attitude we encountered everywhere we went in Sardegna. They are still deeply grateful to Americans for coming to their rescue during WWII, and they were very supportive during the Gulf War. Even casual encounters with Italians elicited hugs and kisses, because we are Americans.
Yes, I’ve always been proud to be an American, but my experiences in a foreign land made me even prouder. We may have our issues and differences here in the U.S., but I can tell you every American on our plane cheered when we touched down at JFK.
Have a safe and happy 4th of July, Kids!