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Amy Choate-Nielsen: Military service is part of family heritage

Published: Tuesday, July 8 2014 4:40 p.m. MDT

Patriotism is part of the Choate family heritage, writes Amy Choate-Nielsen.

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If you were at the Colonial Heritage Festival in Orem last week, you might have seen the men and women dressed in their period garb, celebrating the early days of our country’s creation. You might have seen the campfires and breathed the smoke in the air. And you might have tried very, very hard to stay out of the beating sun of a hot July day.

Somewhere in the middle of the hubbub, you might have looked over to the playground and seen children swinging and a man and woman standing straight and tall nearby, each of them raising one hand to just above an eyebrow, in salute to the other.

I wonder what you might have thought if you saw that brief exchange — a quick, quiet moment in the middle of a crowd of tourists and whirling children. Maybe you thought it was a bit odd, just two people being patriotic. Or maybe you didn’t see them there at all.

I was watching my children float back and forth on the swings — while I was hunkered down under the shade of a tall oak tree for protection from the afternoon heat — when I glanced over and saw my brother and sister saluting each other.

My brother, a lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserve, gently corrected the angle of my sister’s hand, straightening her fingers a little. I couldn’t hear what he was telling her, but it looked like he was coaching her on her posture.

My sister, a psychologist with a doctorate, recently joined the Navy Reserve as an officer. One weekend she was taking care of her four boys, and the next she was picking up her new set of uniforms and learning the ways of the military with the force of a fire hose. Her job is to help service members and their families with relationship issues, stress management, depression, grief after loss, anger management and balancing work and social activities, among other things.

Her choice makes her the third member of the military in my immediate family — my dad is retired Air Force, my brother is an Army guy and now my sister is in the Navy. If my parents had more children, maybe we could have had the Marines and Coast Guard covered, too.

I think the tradition comes from my father, who campaigned to get my husband to join the military from the day I married him until the day I told my dad to drop it for the umpteenth time. My dad is staunchly patriotic, and he has imbued in me a sense of love and appreciation for my country that revives itself every Fourth of July.

We also have a long line of ancestors who belonged to the military, including soldiers who fought in the Revolutionary War, the Civil War and countless battles on the fields in Scotland. But I think a big part of my dad’s deep respect for the military comes from his mother, my grandmother, Fleeta, who died before I was born.

Fleeta worked as a World War II nurse, dressing wounds, treating the injured and helping in any way she could. A big part of what she did was simply comforting the soldiers, listening to them talk and trying to help them cope with their lot in life.

It was this interaction with soldiers that inspired my grandmother to earn a master’s degree in counseling more than 30 years after she started working as a nurse. As I understand it, my grandmother became sick before she had a chance to practice. But she planted a seed that flourished in my family, even generations later. One sister became a nurse, another became a psychologist and all of us respect the people who serve our country.

My grandmother knew the value of reaching out to help another in need — especially when that person has been injured because of his or her service to our country. As I watched my brother and sister honor each other for their roles in serving our country, with decades of my family history evidenced in that brief moment, I felt grateful.

Fleeta’s legacy is living on.

Amy Choate-Nielsen is a full-time mom and part-time writer. She spends her days at the park and her nights at the computer. She writes about family history and her quest to understand life while learning about her deceased grandmother, Fleeta.

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