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Great Falls Boy Wins Essay Contest

Sidharth Muralidhar, 13, writes “For Love of Country—What Patriotism Means to Me.”

Sidharth (Sid) Muralidhar, 13, of Great Falls is being honored Oct. 17 for winning first place (gold) for his essay, “For Love of Country—What Patriotism Means to Me,” a contest sponsored by the Fairfax County Public Library System. He will receive $100 and a certificate at a reception at Robinson Secondary School.

“It took me about two to three weeks to write,” said Sid, named after Siddhartha Buddha, the founder of Buddhism. “It was a long thought process.”

The eighth-grader at Kilmer Middle School was inspired to write about his experience with the U.S. Navy Sea Cadets in the District, which he joined last February. Its mission is to foster patriotism, courage, self-reliance and kindred virtues.

The U.S. Naval Sea Cadet Corps was founded by Lt. Col. Henry E. Mooberry, a retired WWII vet who helped 5,000 children get off the streets of D.C. He drove around in his car and brought them to the Washington Navy Yard, where he taught them about military history, leadership skills, good citizenship, discipline, team work and respect for others. Mooberry died in 2005, and today the Naval Sea Corps has helped 12,000 children nationally, in 392 units across the U.S.

On the first Saturday of the month, Sid’s group visits retired war vets at the Armed Forces Retirement Home in the District, where they socialize, and push wheelchairs to Navy Band concerts and play Bingo games. He is working on a community service project to get people to donate iPads to the vets.

On hearing about his first-place win, Sid said: “I felt overjoyed because joining the Navy Sea Cadets has inspired me. I really want to give back to the country by doing community service and helping those who have already helped us.”

His mother Shaila, who runs her own editing business, Royal Fern Publishing, edited Sid’s essay. His dad Arun is an investment manager with his own company.

“I suppose as a parent that I feel full of pride that Sid has taken time out of his busy schedule to put words to pen what this program means to him,” said Shaila. She said the essay was packed with a lot of information. “I told him it was a little too long.”

At Kilmer, Sid maintains a 4.0 GPA and is a member of the National Junior Honor Society. He is active in math, football, and basketball.

For Love of Country: In My Own Words

What does patriotism mean in today’s America.

When I saw one of the US Navy’s best swimmers with a big smile on his face, despite being reduced to life in a wheelchair due to bullet wounds to his head, arm and leg, it defined patriotism for me. Webster’s dictionary defines patriotism as—“love for or devotion to one's country.” To me, patriotism has two clear aspects: national loyalty through military service, and service to the community.

Former Navy Seal Louis Di Croce, the “Navy’s best swimmer” mentioned earlier, who suffered three bullet wounds while on mission in Vietnam, is a resident at the Armed Forces Retirement Home in DC. He told me his job was to swim under boats, plant explosives, and swim back without being detected. On his seventh mission, his unit was fired at, and he went into enemy fire to rescue a comrade. Just imagine the level of courage, sense of duty, and commitment it took. He was lucky to survive, but his injuries paralyzed him. Mr. DiCroce earned three Purple Hearts, two Silver Stars and many other medals for his patriotic service. None of these medals can compensate for what he has given up, but he bears his injuries with honor and a big smile, and takes pride in the fact that he sustained his wounds while trying to rescue a comrade—that is the hallmark of patriotism.

In today’s America, my generation is so focused on texting, Instagram, and the different devices and game systems we own. Unlike the generations that lived through earlier wars, such as World War I and II, Vietnam, and Korea, my generation is relatively unexposed to the tough realities of war. We are far more consumed with material comforts and possessions, quick to take these privileges for granted, and oblivious to the effects of the wars our countrymen are fighting in foreign countries.

In February this year, I joined the Navy Sea Cadets, based at the Washington Navy Yard in DC. The mission of the Cadet Corps is “to encourage and engage American youth to develop … and to teach them patriotism, courage, self-reliance and kindred virtues.” To me, the program aims to nurture future patriots, by teaching us ways to help our community, and learn from the actual, real-life patriots—the many who have sacrificed their lives in service to our nation.

A real-life patriot, Lieutenant Commander Henry E. Mooberry, founded the division I belong to, the first Sea Cadet Unit in the country. He was a retired military veteran who served in World War II. But his patriotism didn’t stop there. He would drive around the streets of DC in his car, at his expense, and pick up kids off the street, and take them to the Navy yard. He would teach them about American history and engage them in physical exercises and drills, giving them productive alternatives to spend their time. He helped more than 5,000 kids, who later moved on to successful military careers or outstanding civilian occupations. Mooberry’s successful program quickly spread to other parts of the country and there are 392 units, serving almost 12,000 youths today. One of these graduates of the program (affectionately known as “Mooberry’s kids”) was at the orientation session I attended. He brought his son to join the group and spoke glowingly about how Lt. Cdr. Mooberry changed his life and set his future on a positive path.

So, a patriot isn’t necessarily a soldier with guns blazing, but is also someone who takes time out of their life to help and educate the younger generation of the community, and by doing so protects the future of our country. Instilling respect and pride in the next generation results in the youth taking pride in their country as well.

I meet many unsung patriotic heroes when I visit the Armed Forces Retirement Home in DC every first Saturday of the month. My friends and I help aged and badly injured veterans by pushing their wheelchairs to concerts, Bingo games, and to just keep them company. They enjoy talking with us about what we are studying in school, the sports we play, or even just discussing the news. We, in turn, love to hear their stories, and how they manage to keep cheerful despite their lifelong, often paralyzing and deforming, injuries. We return home more humble and more in awe of these patriots every time. It is such a great experience to meet people who have devoted their lives to their nation.

Senator John S. McCain said, “I have left war behind me and never let the worst of it encumber my progress.” He returned to the US in 1973, after five years in captivity as a prisoner-of-war in Vietnam. He retired from the Navy in 1981, and went on to serve the country in important governmental positions for the next four decades, including as a member of the US House of Representatives from 1983-87 and the Republican Party’s presidential nominee in 2008. He is the incumbent senator from Arizona. His father, Admiral John S. McCain Jr., and grandfather Admiral John S. McCain Sr., rose to the highest ranks of their service, and Senator McCain holds the torch of patriotism high to this day.

Each of us can, in our own small way, show love for our country, through random acts of kindness and generosity to our fellow countrymen. Help a neighbor by watering their plants when they go out on vacation, give some of our pocket money to buy small gifts for our bus drivers, bring breakfast bagels and coffee for our trash collectors, donate old clothes and toys to the Vietnam Vets. Even bigger acts of generosity, such as trying to get Apple to donate iPads to our veterans at the Armed Forces Retirement Home, so they can better keep in touch with their families, and helping a local delegate’s election campaign—are some ways we can show our patriotism in today’s America. So, we can fit somewhere between Louis di Croce, Lt. Cdr. Mooberry and Senator John McCain.

In the words of Siddhartha Buddha, founder of Buddhism, after whom I am named, “Thousands of candles can be lighted from a single candle …” I believe each of us can be a candle—living examples of the torch of freedom held up high by the Statue of Liberty, for love of our great country—and that is how we can be beacons of patriotism in America today.

—Sidharth Muralidhar