Anton Zatserklyaniy feels lucky to live in America.
Zatserklyaniy, 12, is a Boy Scout in DeKalb Troop 33. He was born in Russia and moved to the United States when he was 2. He says patriotism refers to the respect Americans have for their country.
“Life here is very much better. (In Russia), it’s not as good as here. People are actually nicer (in America). People live better because they actually have more money,” he said. “It’s actually really good because some people, they don’t even get the chance to come here.”
Seeing the American flag reminds Zatserklyaniy of its history.
“When I think about the flag, I think about the defense of Fort McHenry and how brave our troops were. They didn’t give up,” he said.
As citizens celebrate America’s 234th birthday – a commemoration of the day the Declaration of Independence was approved in 1776 – area residents shared what patriotism means to them.
Many who’ve served in the military said they fought to protect the U.S. and the country’s ideals. Steve Marberry, commander of DeKalb American Legion Post 66, served in the Vietnam War and said his patriotism grows stronger as he ages.
“Patriotism is love of your country,” he said. “We served our country, and we’re proud of our flag and proud of our country.”
Marberry said he’d like to get back to the ideals the country was created on. But no matter who’s in power, patriotism is about supporting one’s country, he said.
“We support our country regardless. ... We were always there when the government called on us. You have to be there. You have to step up,” he said. “Patriotism is giving yourself and not asking anything back. Patriots don’t have to get anything in return. It’s what you give to your country.”
Jerry Johnson, commander of DeKalb Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2287, echoed Marberry’s sentiments.
“To me, patriotism is just being patriotic and enjoying your country and enjoying the freedoms we have, even thought they’re being cut short once in a while,” said Johnson, also a Vietnam veteran.
Many people want to become U.S. citizens, he said, and it’s important to remember what America offers.
“I’ve been around the world, and the U.S. is the best place to be,” Johnson said.
State Rep. Robert Pritchard, R-Hinckley, said Americans should take time to think about the significance of the Fourth of July.
“I think some citizens take this holiday a lot more seriously than others because of involvement,” he said. “...This country is at war. That ought to breed patriotism as well.”
Joe Gastiger, pastor at First Congregational United Church of Christ in DeKalb, believes patriotism means responsible citizenship.
“I do think that patriotism, it means stepping forward, being willing to serve on commissions, boards – to be active in your community – because to claim rights without assuming some civic responsibilities is unethical and illogical,” Gastiger said in an e-mail.
Harlene Harden, associate pastor at Sycamore United Methodist Church, said it’s not easy to define patriotism because it’s a broad topic.
“For me, patriotism is my love and my support of my country and its interests,” she said. “... If you want to be patriotic, you need to be registered to vote. When you’re patriotic and you really love your country, you’re informed.”
Lizett Anderson, mother of DeKalb native Nathalia Anderson – who is currently at U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. – believes supporting the country’s armed forces is an important part of being patriotic. Since her daughter is now part of the “military family,” it hits closer to home, she said.
“It makes it more real, I guess. It makes it more vivid,” she said. “There’s people sacrificing their lives every day. We take it for granted.”
As he’s gotten older, state Sen. Brad Burzynski, R-Rochelle, said he’s gained a better understanding of what makes the U.S. great.
“Thinking about our forefathers, they were willing to sacrifice their lives,” he said. “I think I’m just in greater awe of those individuals.”