He grew up poor, ran numbers for a bookie, fought in a war, worked without complaint, loved his country — and cherished the vote

Bernard Kadner would have been so proud today to see the willingness of his fellow Americans to stand in long lines to vote.

SHARE He grew up poor, ran numbers for a bookie, fought in a war, worked without complaint, loved his country — and cherished the vote

Bernard and Mary Kadner, columnist Phil Kadner’s parents, in about 1960.

This is a story about a fellow who believed in America. He was born more than a century ago. At the age of three his mother died. His brother was a year old at the time.

The boys’ father took them to their maternal grandmother’s house and dropped them off. He left. Forever.

The Great Depression hit just about the time the youngsters entered adolescence, so after high school there were few normal jobs available.

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The eldest boy ended up working as a runner for a neighborhood bookie, taking bets on horse races.

During the Depression, ordinary people often worked for criminal enterprises because there were few other jobs until the federal government put them to work building roads, parks and dams. The government also paid artists to paint murals, take photographs of people in rural areas, write histories about communities. “Socialist” programs, Republicans called them.

Eventually, the boy we are concerned with left the bookmaking business for a job with the U.S. Post Office.

It wasn’t long after that however, that World War II broke out and our young man found himself in another government job. He was drafted into the U.S. Army. It was the first time he lived away from home.

He got three meals a day and a bed he didn’t have to share, and the Army sent him to officer’s training school. He served in the China India Burma theater, where he would see people so poor it made him cry.

He returned home from the war, got married and had children. He would remind his sons that Germany was one of the most educated nations in the world yet it came under the control of a madman who preyed on the population’s national pride, economic insecurity, race hatred and fear. A great nation turned into a fascist dictatorship that executed millions of men, women and children and launched a bloody world war.

Our hero returned to the post office. He worked a monotonous job sorting mail that offered job security but little in the way of excitement or personal glory. Still, he was proud of his work. He made sure the mail got to people everywhere in the country.

The American flag was hung outside the family home every holiday. He often reminded his children not to trust anyone who wore a flag pin in his lapel. People like that, he warned them, eventually try to sell you something that has nothing to do with patriotism.

And there was nothing more important, he said, than our right to vote.

That American, as you probably guessed, was my father. He was like millions of others in this country. There are stories of hardship, adversity and self-sacrifice all around us. Despite the unrest caused by the Civil Rights Movement, the anti-Vietnam war movement and Watergate, my father’s belief in this country never wavered.

I wanted to share this story with you today because he would have been proud that so many of his fellow countrymen are willing to stand in long lines to vote.

He would have reminded me, as he often did, that after the war, the United States spent millions of dollars to rebuild Japan and West Germany and asked for nothing in return. No other country in history had done such a thing for its former enemies.

That is the generosity of spirit that made our nation so special, he would say. We do things no one else has ever done because even in the worst of times, the darkest of days, ordinary people believe they can change things for the better.

Today, you are among the fortunate few who have inherited that legacy. The future is up to you. Please take good care of it.

Email: philkadner@gmail.com

Send letters to letters@suntimes.com.

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