Receiving the Blessings of a Grateful Nation

By Doug Patton

May 20, 2003

Every year, to observe Memorial Day, my brother, my two sisters and I meet at a little cemetery in Montgomery County, Iowa. It contains the hallowed graves of men who served in every conflict since the War of 1812. My father, a World War II veteran, is buried there, as is my grandfather, who served in World War I.

A few miles west of that cemetery lies the county seat, a small but vibrant town called Red Oak. I was born there.

Call it fate. Call it karma. Call it kismet, chance, destiny or just plain coincidence. As a Christian, I call it blessing. Whatever you call it, there is no denying the fact that at a time when so many small Midwestern towns are struggling just to stay viable, the remarkable little city of Red Oak, Iowa, population 6,300, is flourishing. Why? Why should this town be so blessed while others have dried up and disappeared?

The little city of Red Oak has a remarkable record of attracting new industries. The community just snagged another one last week, as the Chamber of Commerce welcomed Johnson Controls, a Fortune 100 company, to town. In the last 40 years, no fewer than 16 new companies have come to this town located just east of the meandering Nishnabotna River in Southwest Iowa.

So, why would Red Oak be singled out and given such opportunity? Is it the people? Is it the "movers and shakers," the bankers and others who make it their life's work to promote their community? It is that and more, much more.

As I heard about the town's latest coup, I thought of all the other struggling communities and wondered what was different about this one. Although I was born in Red Oak, I had never really lived there, my family having moved away shortly after my birth. So, I had not thought much about the community over the years. It seemed to thrive, but I never gave it much thought until last week.

As I reflected on Red Oak's remarkable record of accomplishment, I thought about a statistic I had heard a long time ago and had not considered since.

In late 1941 and early 1942, men all across the country were enlisting to fight tyranny. Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor had galvanized the nation like nothing else could. National Guard units were being called up in counties across America, and Montgomery County, Iowa, was no exception.

Young men, 18, 19, 20 years of age, as they always do, were preparing to save the world from itself. And in the thick of it, standing shoulder to shoulder with professional soldiers, were the young recruits of Red Oak, Iowa.

They were among the first to attack the beachheads at Normandy. They fought valiantly and they fought hard, and in the end, they suffered horrible, unthinkable casualties. In fact, the town of Red Oak, in Montgomery County, Iowa, gave more of its young men, per capita, during World War II than any other town in America. To commemorate their sacrifice, when the "Victory Ships" were launched later in the war, one of them, a 455-foot cargo ship, was named the Red Oak.

The Bible says, "Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you." (Luke 6:38, NIV)

Red Oak, Iowa, paid a terrible price to preserve the blessings of liberty. This year, as Memorial Day is observed in Montgomery County, it is fitting that the community that gave so much should be blessed with the bounty of a grateful nation.


Doug Patton is a freelance columnist who has served as a political speechwriter and public policy advisor at the federal, state and local levels. His weekly columns can be read in newspapers across the country, and on, where he serves as the Nebraska Editor.

He also writes for Talon News Service (

Readers can e-mail him at


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