Though there’s any number of things going on these days about which I might care to opine, every year about this time I think a lot about my previous career.
I think a lot about our country — from where we came, where we are and where we are going.
We came from a group of courageous citizens who stood up to a tyrannical king. Those patriots made what we have now possible, and what we have now is the greatest country on earth.
It took only one trip to Afghanistan to realize our nation is quite great. The matters we deal with here are trivial when compared to those I saw there.
As we argue about bathrooms, folks in other places practice their religion in hiding. They travel through checkpoints every few miles on their roadways as some here use complaints of freedoms under attack as their talking points to catapult them into office.
While we have tragedies here, there, it’s not out of the norm to see a family member kidnapped by the Taliban, a car blown up on a roadway or to be caught in a cross-fire between two rival tribes.
How great America truly is and the freedoms we enjoy never really sank in until I took that all-expenses-paid vacation to the Middle East.
The other thing about which I think is why we enjoy all those freedoms. That answer is simple.
It’s a direct result of the sacrifices of soldiers, sailors and airmen.
You see, the sacrifice I made was small — really small. I spent about a year of my life at war. I left mostly whole and with a lifetime’s worth of memories, both good and bad.
Others gave more. In fact, they gave all.
This time of year, I get a little choked up when I see a flag waving on the skyline. The faces of those who made the ultimate sacrifice are a little clearer when you’ve been touched by the ultimate price of war.
There are people who have been touched by that cost all over the place. One needn’t be a service member who deployed to know it. The loss incurred at war is felt by mothers, fathers, spouses, siblings, children, aunts, uncles and friends torn from their loved ones by war throughout America.
For all those folks, Memorial Day is much more than a day which marks a day off work. It’s a day which prompts them to remember what stands behind Old Glory as she flies above our great nation.
More than 600,000 Americans have died in combat since our nation’s inception. A similar number died non-combat deaths while serving at war. About 40,000 service members are still listed as missing in action.
Each of those had a mom and a dad. Many had children, and all had “battle buddies” (as the Army calls them) who will forever remember them.
The fact is I can’t understand more than a million deaths. I think the vast majority of us commoners really can’t understand a million anythings. I also hope I’ll never have to understand the cost of freedom from the perspective of a parent or a family member.
I can, however, state that I know the cost of freedom from the perspective of a comrade-in-arms.
When folks ask me how I am on a given day, my normal response is, “I’m alive.”
Continued life is never a guarantee. However, for somebody who has been to war, appreciating life takes on a whole new meaning. I think most people appreciate life a little more once they’ve faced death.
Appreciating freedom plays hand-in-hand. One appreciates freedom much more once we play witness to others who don’t enjoy the freedoms we enjoy.
There’s no real way to put the feeling of loss into words when a brother falls in combat. There’s also not really a way to convey the feelings I feel on Memorial Day.
For me, reflecting on it all is unprompted. In fact, it’s unavoidable.
On next week’s day of remembrance I ask that people take a moment, whether at a public ceremony or in private, to think about the men and women who lost their lives protecting the freedoms we all enjoy.
The spirit of the warrior, and the warrior’s unwavering dedication to our country is what allows Old Glory to wave over the land of the free and the home of the brave.
Don’t get so wrapped up in the day off or the festivities that you forget about the real meaning of the holiday — the blood shed in maintaining the freedoms we all enjoy right here in the greatest nation on earth.
Andy is a staff writer and may be reached at 415-4698.