Col. Norman A. McDaniel was winding down his exaltation to patriotism with a seemingly endless sentence.
With every word the medal-festooned war hero spoke . . . "If you are to make your lives fulfilling, both individually and for the good of the country," . . . Troy Brenner's head nodded further forward until his hands passed over his face and completely covered his ears.
". . . We must be careful that we use our energies both individually and collectively to the good of the country and one of the best ways to do that is through pride in America."
Pride in America. That was the refrain that echoed throughout McDaniel's speech Thursday before 800 students assembled at Fallston High School.
"Pride in America" was also the name of a program devoted to the duties of citizenship on its test flight in Harford's high schools last week. The program was sponsored by the American Defense Institute, a Virginia-based group that promotes a strong military and civic involvement.
McDaniel recounted the challenge of growing up black in segregated NorthCarolina and being shot down on his 51st mission over North Vietnam,and being taken captive and tortured.
"There, in prison, I knew Iwas in the hands of the enemy. It was a matter of surviving."
Butthe biggest challenge, McDaniel said, was making free choices once he returned from 6 1/2 years of captivity.
McDaniel simply said he made those choices relying on faith in country and an omnipotent God.
The students rewarded McDaniel with enthusiastic applause, sustained with cheers. Troy Brenner was among the few who did not join the ovation.
"I thought it was pretty good. It inspired me," said Brenner, a 14-year-old ninth-grader. He said he hopes to join the Green Berets and explained his lack of visible response to McDaniel with "I don't applaud much."
Some were struck by County State's Attorney Joseph Cassilly's assurance that young adults have not lost interest in serving their country.
Cassilly, a Republican candidate for U.S.Senate and Vietnam vet, toured county high schools as an featured speaker in the "Pride in America" program last week.
Pat Tilley, an editor of Fallston's The Print newspaper, embraced the salute to diversity and debate. In turns, she disputed and agreed with Cassilly.
"I think there is a lot of apathy in students today," the 16-year-old senior said. "We've become really disillusioned with the nation at this point."
She agreed with Cassilly's paraphrase of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address that "you need to become involved. You need to become the government."
Tilley was among a handful of students whose testimonials ADI spokesman Harold Smullian videotaped to help him pitch"Pride in America" to other school districts.
Not every student wanted to take part in the program or saw it as fulfilling.
Senior Andrew Smyth, 17, for one, said "I thought it was patriotic masturbation. I thought it was forced on us. The guy who got captured, he was just justifying his pain by believing more in his country."
But McDaniel remained confident that "Pride in America" could help combat apathy.
"This is like the drug problem," he said. "It's only part of the solution."