Paths to Patriotism: A country boy

A town like this is supposed to have people like Ellis Wiltshire.

With its cornfields crackling in the 100-degree heat, its trim brick post office and library, and its roadside fuel stop that implores drivers, with a wink, to "Eat here, Get gas," this tiny crossroads is a throwback to an America that once was.

Mr. Wiltshire is as well.

When his father died eight years ago, Wiltshire took over the family farm – at age 11 – with a cousin's help. Now he runs the operation, making the 240-mile round trip between Bridgewater College and the farm many weekends during the school year to care for 25 black-and-white beef cows. In the summer, he works odd jobs to help support his mother and sister, who live with him in the house his father built.

And he speaks about it all as if it were as common as a trip to the mall to buy sneakers.

"I was raised to say 'Yes, ma'am' and 'Yes, sir,' and I still do my best to keep my mother happy," he says of his upbringing.

So it's no surprise that his feelings on July 4 echo those of generations past. He likes the idea of mandatory national service – military or otherwise. Since Sept. 11, his support for his country has not wavered. What's more, should President Bush call for volunteers in the war on terrorism, he would go.

Sept. 11 made him feel more patriotic, and he believes the nation's unity has been recharged: "[Until the terrorist attacks], many people seemed to take for granted the privileges we have."

Despite his old-fashioned ethic, though, the wiry and unfailingly polite Wiltshire is not an anomaly in his generation. For one, his outlook matches the more-traditional patriotism most common in the South and Midwest.

Beyond that, his attitude typifies that of today's 20-somethings. His path to adulthood has been different from that of many contemporaries, but he shares their survival instincts. While Wiltshire assumed early responsibility because of his father's passing, others his age did so from within broken homes.

Those who've observed Generations X and Y say they tend to be decisive – sometimes even brash – and Wiltshire is nothing if not decisive. Of the complaint that America has trod on international toes since Sept. 11, he responds: "If someone had attacked their country, they'd want to get back, too. I'd like us to get at the core, to the people who started this.... That's the way Americans are brought up, to stand for our liberty."

Wiltshire's father taught him to stand up for what he believes in. He was "a big Republican," and Wiltshire says he likes that party's views. But the current situation, he adds, goes beyond politics.

In fact, Wiltshire has not yet registered to vote. It's an admission that would shock his 12th-grade history teacher, whom he credits with helping him see other people's points of view and "was very big on getting us to vote."

Wiltshire is "not much into politics," and would rather work toward having people get along. To him, the essence of America lies in a nonpartisan commitment to country and in family and community ties.

A good citizen, he says, will "follow the laws of our country, help out other citizens in need, ... and take our rights and our freedoms seriously."

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