Voting is a gift from our Founders: Norman Lear

Voting is a gift from our Founders: Norman Lear

When I was sent overseas in World War II as the radio operator and top gunner on a B-17, we airmen were on a mission basis. In the 15th Air Force, flying out of Foggia, Italy, we often flew so many hours that some missions earned us double credit. When we’d flown 50 missions, our tour of duty was completed.

Bomb crew of the B-17 “Umbriago,” 1944. Norman Lear is standing in back row, far right.

Halfway through my tour the Air Force decided to put us on a sortie basis. That meant that we were credited with a mission only when we dropped bombs. To complete our tour on a sortie basis, we had to drop bombs 35 times. All in, my box score reads that I flew 52 missions and dropped bombs 35 times. As an American, of course I go with the larger figure, so when asked about my service, I say I flew 52 missions in World War II.

What does that have to do with voting in this election, you may wonder. Everything, is the answer. We were in love with America when we were fighting World War II, “The Big One,” as it was generally called. I don’t mean to imply that we don’t love our country today, but I do wish to stress that we were IN love with our country then. When war was declared, we went from an easy does it, laid back culture to the war machine of all time, with just about every man, woman and late teen giving their all. No one had to sell us or motivate us to turn our lives over to the service of our country. It happened with the snap of a trigger finger because we were IN love with our country then.

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When I say IN love, I mean we were in touch with what about our country that made us love it so. We lived every day far closer to America’s reasons for being. It promised its citizens the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It granted us the right to equal opportunity and equal justice under the law. And it welcomed the world’s poor and hungry and huddled masses yearning to breathe free. We took civics classes in public schools back then, and those words, those promises were etched in our hearts and burned into our minds at an early age. And so, in the 1930s and ’40s when my country and I began to understand that there was a world out there that we had to reckon with, and that The Big One was upon us, we were IN love with everything our Founders assured us we stood for.

I don’t think I fully grasped at the time just how many Americans were being cheated of their birthright and systematically denied access to equal opportunity and justice. I came home from Europe in one piece thanks in part to the Tuskegee Airmen, the black fighter pilots who overcame racism and segregation, flew protective escort for us, and compiled an exceptional wartime record. And yet after this extraordinary patriotic service, they returned to a country where many people treated them as less than equal, where the force of law was wielded to enforce an ideology of white supremacy that mocked the ideals for which they had fought so bravely.

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Fortunately, our Founders established a society in which we, the citizenry, have the constitutional right to change our laws and our governing bodies to suit our needs. In the decades since we liberated Europe from fascism, Americans have transformed our own society. Our culture and laws have been changed by great activist movements that brought us successive waves of civil rights legislation and legal rulings for which we should all be grateful and proud.

There is even more for me to love about America now than there was when I dropped out of college to join the war effort. And so there is nothing more important to this 94-year old American than his vote. Next to that comes your vote.

Turn a deaf ear to anyone who says “What’s one vote?” It’s a gift from our Founding Fathers, that’s what! It’s the legacy of countless Americans — those who fought and those who participated in nonviolent struggles — to preserve that precious right for you.

Every vote cast is a contribution to a sane world. Contribute — and VOTE!

Norman Lear is a World War II veteran, actor, writer, producer, director, creator of pioneering television shows such as All In The Family, a founder of People for The American Way, and subject of the 2016 documentaryNorman Lear: Just Another Version of You.

You can read diverse opinions from our Board of Contributors and other writers on the Opinion front page, on Twitter @USATOpinion and in our daily Opinion newsletter. To submit a letter, comment or column, check our submission guidelines.

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