Work Because of Pride?
By samd4 ([email protected])
November 15, 2000
During World War II, my father was denied admittance into the military due to a serious childhood injury that permanently damaged his leg. So instead, he became a quarterman rigger in a shipyard at Moore's Dry Dock in San Francisco.
Late in the war, a member of my father's crew came to him with a problem. The man was a resident-alien in this country and was married to a woman who did housework for a living. As a non-citizen, he was not allowed to serve in the military, but he had worked since the beginning of the war building ships to support the war effort. They worked long, arduous hours building Liberty ships to carry the men and goods to war. But now, he told my father, he had to quit his job. Dad asked him why, and he answered, "I have to get a job that pays money because my wife is sick and can no longer work."
My father was perplexed. "I don't understand. You're paid well for the job you do."
"I don't get paid," replied the man. "I just get a piece of paper telling me how much work I have done for the government."
"Then what does your family live on?" asked Dad.
"My wife worked and made just enough for us to live. I had planned to get a paying job after the war ends so things could be better for us, but with her illness, I need to make enough for both of us now."
They went to the man's house and he proudly brought out a shoebox. Placed neatly inside, were all of the paychecks the man had earned. He had never seen a paycheck because only cash had been used where he came from, and he didn't understand what these paper checks represented.
Dad took him to the bank and showed him how to cash his checks and, after returning home, he and his wife had tears in their eyes. He was as grateful to my father as though Dad had given him the money himself. The next day, they went to the office at the shipyard and the paymaster arranged for the outdated checks to be honored.
After telling me this story, Dad asked me what I thought and I told him that it was silly that the guy didn't know what a check was. After all, I was a kid and I knew what a check was. To that, Dad said to me, "That man was not born here. He went through a lot to come to this country, and he and his wife lived poorly for most of the war simply because he thought that it was his duty to help his new country. He didn't question it; he had no selfish thoughts. He only wanted to be a part of this country and do what all Americans should do."
For the first time in my young life, I was speechless. I could not fathom how anyone could be so selfless. I was ashamed of my disdain for his ignorance. This was my father's way of teaching a great lesson; for every right that you earn, a responsibility goes with it. If you don't exercise the responsibility, you should not claim the right.
In his own mind, that man worked for free in a hard, dangerous job for most of WW II simply because he felt that it was his duty as an "almost" American. How many of us would do the same? How many of us feel that sense of pride as an American? Current events notwithstanding, I know my answer. Yours?