Memorial Day--Did they know?

(Reprint from last year.)

I do not know who was the first to say, “Freedom isn’t free.” The sentiment is certainly true. Our men and women who have given their lives for our freedom are being honored Memorial Day, just as they have been for decades. I can hardly read the stories of some of these men, and now women, who fought for us, because tears streaming down my face. 

I wonder sometimes, did they know? 

Did they know that years later I would appreciate their bravery and discipline to stand between me and the bad guys with such deep gratefulness? Did they know while hunkered down in the trenches, bombs bursting overhead, how beautiful freedom feels? Did they join the service because it was the “right thing to do,” and because Uncle Sam needed them. Or did they know in their heart of hearts that Imperialism and Communism and Socialism were bad for the health of this beautiful nation we call the United States of America? Did they know that some would burn the flag they held so dear? Did they know some would protest war so violently that a few would lay dead? 

Would it have mattered to them that some would think freedom so cheap they would withhold honor from the warriors’ homecoming? Would it still have been worth it to them if they had known not everyone back home bled red, white and blue? 

Did they remember how glorious our flag waves from the top of the ship that brought them to the shores of Tripoli or the trenches of Germany or the mountains of Korea or the jungles of Viet Nam or the deserts of Iraq? 

The veterans of WWII are dying at the rate of about 1,500 or more per day. The eye witness accounts are dying with them. Yes, we have some of their stories, but it is surprising what someone remembers after 60 years while just talking with another.  I have been blessed to hear some of those special memories. 

The image that pierces my heart the most is the photograph of those six men who were raising Old Glory over Iwo Jima. That place is where more of our boys gave their lives than in most any other battle. The image is so great because America is the home of the brave of heart who did what was right and fought for freedom from fear and oppression.

I watched a documentary on that not too long ago. That photo is one of the most recognized war photographs. It was snapped by Joe Rosenthal. What few people know, is that that photograph was a hastily taken photo. When he saw them out of the corner of his eye start to raise the flag, he grabbed up his camera and snapped the shot without even looking in the viewfinder. It was taken while he was setting up, he wasn’t even ready to take the “real” photo. What a shot! 

This is more than five U.S. Marines and one Navy Corpsman raising a flag on top of a mountain. It depicts the teamwork involved in fighting for something believed in. It depicts obedience. It depicts ingenuity. It depicts determination. It depicts the need and desire to make order out of chaos. 

Of the six men, Frank Sousely, Harlon Block, Michael Strank did not survive the battle. John Bradley, Rene Gagnon and Ira Hayes did, becoming celebrities after the photo was published around the world in about 17 hours after it was snapped. But regardless of who the men were, it is what they stood for, what Old Glory stands for that makes my heart swell with pride to belong to this country whose sons and daughters put boots on the ground in other places so we can sleep peacefully at night. 

So I get a lot teary-eyed when I think about Old Glory, and the troops, and the songs sung to cheer them on “Over There”. Because “America” is worth it. That “Grand Ole Flag” is and ever will be “The Stars and Stripes Forever.” “God Bless America, land that I love.” Let freedom forever ring.
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