January 14, 2002 - Riverside Press-Enterprise: Editorial - The call to serve

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Editorial - The call to serve

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The call to serve *

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The call to serve

Jan 14, 2002 - Press-Enterprise Riverside CA

The dust was still settling on the rubble of the World Trade Center when many Americans found themselves asking the same question: What can I do? In that awful moment, there was suddenly nothing abstract about the question. People wanted to rush to help, to serve.

That was a terrible day for this country, but it was a day of great awakening as well. Across the nation, flags appeared. Charity abounded. Overnight there was a revival of values that, it seemed to some, had been gathering dust on the shelf. Sacrifice and the national defense had deep, personal meaning again, and the nation's heroes were firemen and policemen and citizens who had put their lives on the line, and the soldiers and sailors and fliers who were answering the call to arms. It may even turn out that, in that moment, the page began to turn on the division of an American generation over Vietnam.

In any case, it can be argued that the famous invocation of John F. Kennedy resounded through the nation for the first time in decades: "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country." And one of the things to be rediscovered is how many Americans have never really stopped serving at all. Military service is the time-honored manner of national service, with the greatest potential for personal cost. Americans of all ages volunteer daily, in countless ways, in their communities. But the Peace Corps, born of President Kennedy's call to serve, is a prime example, too.

The Peace Corps today has some 7,300 volunteers working in 70 countries, and it ought to be a point of Inland pride that some 90 of them hail from this region or attended college here.

These volunteers teach and build and nourish and serve as examples of determined individual impact. Over the 40 years of its existence, the Peace Corps has sent 163,000 Americans to work in foreign lands.

We fly the flag, then, in many ways. And it ought to be reassuring to us all that so many of us have been flying it all along.

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