Column: Patriotism is Tricky Sometimes, But I’ll Salute the Thunderbirds

Thunderbirds, via U.S. Navy.

By Caitlin Hawke

I won’t go much into my complicated relationship to my patriotism. Except to say, while I could have done without all the lapel pins that later ensued, when I saw the first flags appear in solidarity in the immediate wake of 9/11, it took a deep emotional toll. I don’t think I’d ever before realized how powerful a symbol a cloth flag could be.

When I was in grade school, I remember learning “Lift Every Voice and Sing” and being awestruck by its beauty. It shook awake in me an explosively optimistic feeling, perhaps the birth of my complicated patriotism.

Today, cheering at my window, watching my partner cheer beside me, hearing his voice projecting over West End Avenue, listening to but not seeing my downstairs neighbor ringing her school bell, and seeing my counterparts across the avenue materialize from behind closed windows night in and night out: these are small moments of solidarity I never could have imagined would be mine.

Like the flags after 9/11 and the voices lifted in song of my DC childhood, the evening cheers touch a deep nerve within. Collective and rallied around a single cause. A patriotism.

Here now come the airborne elite. In a military tribute to the legions who’ve kept our fates from a downward spiral — the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds and the Navy’s Blue Angels will flyover our punch drunk city today at noon in a salute to the people whose debt we are in: our essential workers and the frontline Covid workers.

These glorious flocks of flying machines are guaranteed to take your breath away.

I can’t imagine any aerobatics, but the metaphor of the jets passing in impossible proximity at impossible speed is akin to what our medical, city, and essential business workers have done these past two months. Lockstep. No margin of maneuver. In sync. All ramped up at full speed.

As I said at the top of this post, my patriotism has its complexities. But when it comes to the Blue Angels and the Thunderbirds, when they fly over, all is forgiven and forgotten between me and Uncle Sam: I am American to my core. The sight and stunning sound of them, too, make a deep emotional mark — like a roaring promise that anything is possible, anything achievable. If we come together.

Deep inside we know it’s time to face the rising sun of our next new day. With the Blue Angels above, let it resound loud as the rolling sea.

Caitlin Hawke is a longtime Upper West Sider. She regularly blogs for the West 102nd & 103rd Streets Block Association here. This is reprinted from her blog with permission.

COLUMNS | 20 comments | permalink
    1. Please_ says:

      Thank you for posting this. It mirrors my feelings.

    2. Evan Bando says:

      Caitlin, you said it all and you said it well. Pride in the people of a country is as good as patriotism gets. And, yes, the Air Force Thunderbirds and the Navy Blue Angels are symbols of war but they are also a symbol of solidarity to an ideal worth protecting – despite the fact that the US war machine has been ill-used far too often since WWII. With this in mind, I urge all of us to put aside the paradox that is the United States of America and simply watch our best and brightest perform their acrobatics at near Mach speed and let the screech and roar enter our chest like a swell of pride for our brave healthcare workers and service people of all kinds who are doing their part for the good of us all during COVID.

    3. Riverside Driver says:


    4. D-Rex says:

      I will be happily and proudly watching and listening for the F-18s and F-16s today!

    5. Steve Downey says:

      I hear you, Caitlin, and I respect your point of view. These things are awesome. I once got caught in a country that declared war on it’s neighbor. Military jets can also be objects of great fear. Is there an alternative to machines meant for war to create this patriotic feeling?

    6. lynn says:

      Wonderful article Caitlin! Politics aside I just went out to the roof to watch the jets flying over and I must say it was quite impressive. I’m not sure it made me feel patriotic, and as someone else pointed out I still see them as weapons of war.

      I went downstairs to mail a letter and walked from B’way to WEA to Riverside and back, and was quite surprised to see regular traffic, and HUNDREDS of people outside, several of them not wearing masks, and certainly not social distancing.

      On 72nd btwn WEA and B’way the line for TJs is now running directly through a now ACTIVE construction site next to Joseph Pharmacy. Not social distancing by any stretch of the imagination. For the life of me I can’t understand why the guy with the TJs sign did not object to standing there and why seniors are still standing on this line for groceries. There has to be a better plan.

      I’m going to attempt to reach someone at TJs.

      • HelenD says:

        I see you didn’t mention the group of homeless men sitting on the benches and tree rails along 72nd. Plus scaffolding went up at Beer Culture and the next couple of stores. There’s already scaffolding over 4-5 essential businesses near the bus stop on 72nd closer to WEA, so this makes 2/3 of that block under scaffolding now. Great place for the TJ shoppers to stand or another encampment of homeless people?

        • lynn says:

          I did notice the homeless men and they were wearing masks. I found it infuriating that the runners and bikers were NOT wearing masks and they were were within arms reach of everyone else in the crowd. I don’t know what to say about the scaffolding. I just want the line moved away from the construction site and for everyone to be safe. : )

    7. Noemie says:

      Thank you for posting this, beautiful post!

      As an immigrant/became a citizen, some of the comments in the other post announcing the flyover were complete *trash*. I’m glad there was a large number of people socially distant and watching it today in Riverside Park. Being a democrat doesn’t mean not being patriotic like some echo chambers want to make you think.

    8. Richard says:

      I agree with your thoughts, and you expressed them quite well.

    9. ST says:

      As disappointed as I have been in our country at times over the years, my love for it doesn’t waver. My immigrant parents were extremely patriotic, proud citizens with no divided loyalties to their homeland and taught their children to be the same.

    10. Molly says:

      Does anyone know what the lone plane flying behind the two formations was for? I thought perhaps symbolic but it doesn’t match the missing man formations I found online.

    11. SBG says:

      I want to emphasize that although I was more thrilled by the Eagles than the planes (neither of which I actually saw) I have great respect for what Caitlin wrote & for her skill in expression. In fact, seeing a picture of those magnificent birds flying over the Mighty Hudson makes me feel patriotic about our beautiful country.

    12. Antoinette Zelig says:

      Funny, I had the same thoughts. I also said as I saw them that they brought my patriotism back to me if only for a moment through these trying times.
      (Forgive the typos)

    13. Isabella Calisi-Wagner says:

      Well said!!!

    14. Chrigid says:

      I hope you can agree that it’s just as patriotic of me to be enraged by this tawdry military show, when we who paid for it are reduced to cheering out the window for those risking their lives for us.

      Has anyone worked out how much it cost in terms of PPEs, tests, food pantries and the like?

    15. Sam Eagle says:

      Forgiven and forgotten? “I would rather you just said “thank you”, and went on your way.”….

    16. Gennaro says:

      What a beautiful post, thank you!! 🇺🇸

      Unfortunately I am afraid a lot of ultra-liberal UWS-ers will roll their eyes disrespectfully to this post.