The burden of freedom
I must study politics and war, that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history and naval architecture, navigation, commerce, and agriculture, in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry, and porcelain.
Every year at the end of May, I feel obliged to write a Memorial Day editorial — and always, I feel wholly inadequate for the task.
I take time during the holiday to remember the veteran who left the deepest mark on my life. He’s a favorite great-uncle who landed fighter planes on aircraft carriers during World War II. He’s also the closest thing to a grandfather I ever knew, and I miss him dearly.
My father spent a short tour of duty in the Army, but hardly spoke of his experience nor encouraged me to consider military service myself. Throughout my entire extended family, there were few military role models leading me to serve my country in uniform.
So, here I am in the middle of my career, “educated beyond my intelligence” as my uncle often teased, and typing away at a keyboard for a living. Any drill sergeant worth his salt would have a field day with the likes of me.
When I reflect on American freedom on Memorial Day, Indepenence Day and other patriotic holidays, I am thankful I enjoy the freedom to choose my course of life.
I didn’t grow up under constant threat of invasion like children of Israel and therefore didn’t have to face compulsory military service to defend my country. I didn’t come of age in a time of the draft. When I turned 18, my choices in life fanned out in all directions and nobody told me which path to take.
Even today, the forces abroad that threaten America do not cause me to live in fear. They make life inconvenient at the airport and during visits to museums in Washington D.C. Otherwise, my life is as it has been my entire adult life. I pay my taxes and government stays out of my way as it should be.
During community parades, we see veterans groups presenting our country’s flag and conducting solemn services but, beyond that, there isn’t much of a show of military might. In our country — unlike the familiar television images you see from Russia, China and North Korea — you rarely see tanks or missles being trotted through town, nor the precision formations of active soldiers marching through town.
Our military exists to keep America safe at home and protect her interests overseas. Our armed forces do so much more than fire weapons at our enemies. They train emerging nations to defend themselves. They build roads, bridges and schools that lead to stable societies. They project America’s strength and confidence abroad — a living symbol of our country’s values.
My generation might be one of the first free to live our entire lives without being absolutely required to serve our country — yet so many my age and younger still choose to walk away from complacent civilian lives to allow me the privilege of personal independence.
Memorial Day reminds me each year that I owe my freedom — in every imaginable way — to America’s veterans and active duty servicemen and women.
Thank you. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.