Veterans’ sacrifices secured freedom
THE EDITORIAL BOARD’S OPINION
The ever-present freedom that is so much a part of the everyday fabric of this great nation can be deceiving in its own way.
It can lull us, with some risk, into believing that freedom — in either its most-profound, or everyday-ordinary incarnations — comes without a real, ongoing and sobering cost. Instead, we can come to think that our way of life is really the normal state of human affairs.
The truth stands a very far piece away from that simplistic and dangerous notion.
Anyone who’s ever worn a uniform of this great nation — and survived to tell of their experiences — can disabuse us of such ideas if we’re willing and aware enough to pay attention. And, if no living veterans are handy, independently thinking for even a few moments about the real reasons for Memorial Day can accomplish much the same thing.
For freedom is purchased and maintained with a price not ever fully paid. Not in this perpetually troubled world. And not when the bills coming due are measured in human suffering and lives lost on battlefields both far away — and, at times, even on our own American soil.
That realization should make a few moments of reflection this Memorial Day weekend a very tiny sacrifice to offer for our Constitution and the rights we enjoy under it. These privileges we enjoy, believe it or not, transcend political party affiliation, zip code and state boundaries.
Consider that we vote — or, at least, we should — for our representatives. We are then free to publicly criticize them pointedly or even obscenely when we believe they fall short. Such are far from universal rights around the world. Yet we routinely exercise them — and other powerful freedoms — almost without consciously thinking about the profound grace they grant us all. Or the cost paid in human lives to both gain and maintain them.
In this matter, it can be worthwhile to turn President John F. Kennedy’s famous statement on its head, leaving us with the thought that to whom much is given, precious little is really expected of most of us. Those who’ve died in service to America have measured up to the requirement explained in Kennedy’s original thought. It’s eloquently laid out in the New Testament Book of Luke as well: “For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required.” Those who’ve died in service to America have more than paid this cost of our freedom.
Seen that way, it is good and appropriate to pause this holiday weekend to recognize, remember and even mourn the soldiers, sailors, marines, airmen, coast guardsmen and others who’ve given us the gift of their sacrificed lives while in service to this country.
That should be easier to remember this year because this month saw the opening of the National September 11 Memorial Museum. It commemorates the 2001 terrorist attacks that brought home to American civilians in a shock-and-awe way the dangers of our modern world.
We absorbed and reacted to that lesson much as a previous generation did with their own version of 9/11 — the attack on Pearl Harbor that flung the U.S. into a long and bloody conflict.
Our freedom emerged the victor when that war was finally done. We believe that will be the case too with our current, still-ongoing conflict a world away. Although the Iraq war is over, Americans in uniform are still engaged in war in Afghanistan. Approximately 600 of Georgia’s citizen-soldiers are presently deployed overseas as part of ongoing combat operations. More are set to head to Afghanistan shortly in what the Georgia National Guard says may be the final large-scale deployment as part of Operation Enduring Freedom.
The risks they face are every bit as real as those stared down by their predecessors in uniform. Many who’ve similarly marched off to confront our foes perished as a result. Their selflessness and sacrifice is worth remembering this weekend and for all days to come.
Andre Jackson, for the Editorial Board.
Honoring sacrifice honors freedom
By Jim Butterworth
Memorial Day has become the semi-official start of the beginning of summer. Not by Mother Nature or any words on a calendar, but by disappearing swimming pool covers, increased lake traffic and regular backyard barbecues. So let’s celebrate summer’s beginning once again. Let’s celebrate our freedom. Let’s also remember those who made this Memorial Day possible.
I decided it would be interesting to look up the exact definition of “memorial” in the dictionary. The version I found stated that a memorial is something which is “intended to preserve the memory of a person or event.” In that definition, the word “preserve” struck me quite a bit. At Memorial Day ceremonies we always hear about honoring and remembering our fallen heroes. We don’t often say, however, that we want to preserve their memory.
Interestingly, the definition of preserve goes something like this, “Preserve — to keep alive or in existence.” When I read that, it hit me. That’s what we strive for when we honor our fallen heroes on Memorial Day, isn’t it? We keep their memory and sacrifice alive by honoring their service.
For many years, I was somewhat disenchanted with the fact that Memorial Day ceremonies were not well-attended. Back then, I took low attendance to mean that honoring sacrifice and duty were things of a lost generation.
I now believe, however, that these things are still valued. As a matter of fact, I know they are. I see it every day as I am thanked, alongside my National Guard Soldiers and Airmen, by those we don’t even know. I now know that keeping alive the memories of our over 200 Georgia fallen heroes who have been killed in action since 9/11 is not done solely at a ceremony at a national cemetery in Canton or Marietta on Memorial Day.
As summer begins on Memorial Day, I believe our lost heroes are honored by the wisps of smoke rising from the backyard barbecues of thousands of houses across America. Their memories are kept alive in the splashes that happen as a result of attempted backflips from diving boards. Their existence and sacrifice are remembered throughout ballparks across the country, and especially here in the Deep South, as we cheer for our Braves and sing the National Anthem.
So this year, on Memorial Day, honor those who have given their all for you and me. I’d definitely encourage you to take an hour and be a part of a Memorial Day ceremony. As we say at my home church, “it’ll bless you.” Alternatively, take a moment to tell your kids about what our heroes have done to make and keep us free. Accounts of bravery and sacrifice on the battlefield are a cornerstone of our society in America. As you pray over your lunchtime or early afternoon barbecue, remember the families who these heroes have left behind and consider praying for them, too. Remember that it’s not just the servicemember who sacrificed for our freedom.
If we continue to do these things, we will truly preserve and properly memorialize those who have gone before us to ensure our freedom. This is how we properly keep our heroes alive. They live through our continued freedom.
May God continue to bless our great nation and those who serve in harm’s way to keep us free. Happy Memorial Day.
Maj. Gen. Jim Butterworth is adjutant general of the Georgia National Guard.