Saluting a yes, we can country
I have lived in the United States for about a third of my life. As an evacuee from war-torn Britain (1940-45) I imbibed in my American schools all that young Americans did growing up at that time whether it was the patriotism of Nathan Hale: ‘I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country’ or of Barbara Frietchie’s Civil War story: "Shoot if you must this old grey head but spare my country’s flag” she said.’ I learned to recite Paul Revere’s story from Longfellow’s poem: ‘On the 18th of April 75 hardly a man is now alive who remembers that famous day and year’ (I was actually in the same class at school with his descendant, Paul Revere).
I can recite the presidents of the United States from George Washington to Grover Cleveland. Why can’t I get beyond Cleveland? Because that was where I had reached at my American school when the war in Europe came to an end and I returned to England.
I have been reading President Obama’s moving message as he leaves office. He said that he had one final task for the American people. It is ‘asking you to believe. Not in my ability to bring about change - but in yours. I am asking you to hold fast to that faith written into our founding documents; that idea whispered by slaves and abolitionists; that spirit sung by immigrants and homesteaders and those who marched for justice; that creed reaffirmed by those who planted flags from foreign battlefields to the surface of the moon; a creed at the core of every American whose story is not yet written: Yes We Can, Yes We Did. Yes We Can. Thank you. God bless you. And may God continue to bless the United States of America.’
I would like to express my gratitude and that of my American family to the Obamas for what they have given to the United States and to the world, theirs will be a hard act to follow. As a BBC reporter observed, ‘He was the first black man to live in a White House built by slaves.’