Patriotism is hard to define, but Kenneth O’Neal said he thinks he knows why.
“The definition that’s in the dictionary makes it very difficult to define what patriotism is because it’s different for each one of us and what we do,” he said. “Patriotism is a national pride. It’s something that we have in us — the love and respect of our great country.”
O’Neal spoke to the Hill Country Retired School Employees Association this week to address just what patriotism means. He said the future of patriotism often lies with the young people in military prep schools, like the one O’Neal works with: Greystone Preparatory School at Schreiner University.
“(Our students) have been rejected by the academies for one reason or another,” O’Neal said. “Maybe they just didn’t have room for them at this time or maybe they have a medical issue. But the students, they never quit. They know their goal is to become a military officer, and they have come to Greystone to complete our program.”
The school focuses on helping students develop applications, academics, physical abilities and character skills such as leadership and integrity so that they can get into a military academy in the future. Right now, the school has 28 students, nine of which are women.
“Each of (these guys) have a very special story about their goals and ambitions to serve their country,” said David Uhrbrock, a Greystone student at the meeting. “Greystone is a character-building experience and I’m going to be friends with these guys for the rest of my life.”
Besides Uhrbrock, there were three other Greystone students at the meeting who presented the colors as well as talked about their motivations to join the military: Jaden Dapilmoto, Francisco Toro and Trajan Nichols.
“I knew that it was my dream and I’d do whatever it takes to make a difference in this country,” said Nichols. “I love this country more than anything else that I’ve ever loved in my life, and I’d do anything for it.”
Several of the students have a family history rich with military personnel, such as Dapilmoto, who had great-grandfathers who fought in the Philippines and a grandfather who fought in Vietnam. By enlisting, they got citizenship and could come to the United States.
“I wanted to be the first one to be a leader in the military, to lead others to do good in the world and inspire other people as well as they move along in their career,” Dapilmoto said. “That’s why I wanted to go United States Naval Academy.”
Toro came from Puerto Rico and decided to pursue joining the military because the country is important to him. He said he wants to be a pilot.
“I moved to the United States about two years ago to follow my father when he got a work offer,” he said. “I did it because I want to serve my country.”
Margie Morgan, who attended the meeting, said that she found hearing all of these students talk made her feel very moved.
“It was very heartfelt,” she said. “I felt like the youth that were here today for the flag presentation that they really had patriotism in their heart. They renewed my faith in my heart because I felt like a lot of the youth don’t have that and they have it. They have the patriotism that I felt.”
O’Neal said that these students are taking the reins protecting the country, and in doing so, are showing one of the most selfless acts of patriotism.
“Some people are performing unselfish acts to prove and show that they are patriots,” he said. “From the founding fathers to those serving today at home and abroad, their spirits, they have the wheel to protect this country.”
O’Neal said that the one of the most admired patriots in the United States is George Washington.
“He led a very spunky group of people, young Americans to one of the greatest military upsets of all time,” he said. “They won the war for our freedom, our independence, and he was the first president to preside over our government.”
Of course, the most important thing when it comes to patriotism is not necessarily following in the footsteps of those before, said O’Neal.
“The biggest thing about patriotism is we’re not trying to say with patriotism that you follow and believe everything of those in office,” O’Neal said. “You don’t do that. The patriotism is the love of our country.”
One patriot from American history that O’Neal talked about was that of Pvt. Martin Treptow, who was born in Wisconsin and was working as a barber in small-town Iowa when World War I broke out. Treptow enlisted and was killed in battle, but words he left behind in a diary was written into history books.
“America must win this war,” the inscription said. “Therefore, I will work, I will save, I will sacrifice, I will endure, I will fight and do my utmost, as if the issue of the whole struggle depends on me alone.”
O’Neal said he cannot wait for his students to follow their dreams and make a difference in the world.
“As our families watched the storm clouds of war brewing on the horizons of history, the airman, the sailor and the soldier stood to watch,” O’Neal said. “The airman, the sailor and the soldier look to the land and they saw their family often need guidance and help, but they knew they must stay because they had to watch.”
And now, they can move for the next generation.
“In less than 90 days, I am here to say the watch stands to be relieved by these young men and their classmates,” O’Neal said. “They have been led, they have been guided, they have been trained by the airmen, those sailors and those soldiers who have had to watch. Sirs and ma’am, you stand relieved, because the Greystone Preparatory School of 2019 on May 9 will say, ‘We have the watch.’”