The Fourth of July holiday has come and gone, leaving lots of cleanup and a chance to shoot off a final few fireworks.
We suppose it’s all done for love of country, which makes the racket and the mess something worth enduring every year. Patriotism can take many forms — a 12-year-old boy with a bottle rocket and a president standing next to a tank seem to be the two extremes. We’ll save a discussion on the merits of each for another day.
For now, as the smoke dissipates from the holiday weekend, take time to consider the life of Britt Small, who died last month at his home in Skidmore, Missouri. In terms of overt displays of patriotism, Small encountered an America that was different from what we see and expect today.
The country was described as a place of trauma and uncertainty when he returned from the Vietnam War, where he served as a paratrooper in the 173rd Airborne Brigade. It didn’t deter Small from starting a 12-piece band, known as Britt Small & Festival, that traveled the country performing patriotic music and lifting up veterans.
Small, who had degrees from Northwest Missouri State University, earned numerous awards and accolades in his years of touring the United States and Canada. He was inducted into the Missouri Music Hall of Fame, shared the stage with The Beach Boys and received proclamations of recognition from Congress.
What impresses most about his career isn’t the brush with celebrity or the stage outfits that weren’t shy of red-white-and-blue glitz. It was the genuineness of his efforts on behalf of those who served this country.
He didn’t just play to giant crowds, he also performed for small groups of veterans in VFW halls.
“His greatest attribute was the leadership, was his ability ... to find what every person was best at and to use that to the best advantage of everyone and offset other people’s weakness with other’s strengths,” his son, Marty Small, said in a News-Press NOW article.
In our day and age, no small act goes unrecognized on Facebook, but there was nothing preening or self-promotional about Britt Small. During his travels, when he heard a tattered American flag needed replacing, he made sure it got done with little fanfare. No selfies were necessary.
In looking back at an extraordinary life, we’re not saying that anyone’s display of patriotism is better than anyone else’s.
It should be emphasized, however, that Small walked the walk, town after town and year after year, starting in a time when it wasn’t quite as fashionable to memorialize veterans and sing the praises of our country.
He may have wondered, early in his career in the 1970s, if his message was getting through. We can say that it has.