I’m an army brat and I’m proud to say it. My dad served this country with honor and dignity from the age of 18 until he died at the age of 49. He fought in WWII, Korea, and Vietnam twice. Like many of our service men and women, he saw things in war a person should never have to see. He slept with his demons, wrestled with his guilt. He was a soldier. A fighter. A commander shouting orders, some he probably wished he’d never given. He watched friends die, families torn apart. When not at war, he trained the troops. He went fishing. He watched baseball. Through it all, he did his best to provide a good life for his wife, his son and daughter. He rarely complained and didn’t allow his kids to complain either. He taught me to face my problems head on, that nothing was too powerful to defeat me.
I forget that sometimes, but then I hear his voice inside of me yelling at me to pick myself up by my bootstraps and keep going. Thank you, Daddy.
When I was 8-years-old, my dad volunteered to go back to Vietnam. I didn’t understand. I wanted him to stay with me. At a baseball game I asked him why he had to go. He told me something that stuck with me my entire life. I’m sure I don’t have his words absolutely correct but it’s how I remember them. Even at the time I thought them to be profound, and they affected me so much, I put a version of them in my novel (doctored up to fit the fantasy tale that it is.) Here is what that Alabama boy had to say:
“War is a necessary evil. Unfortunately, we all battle some sort of enemy either within or around us every day. The true test of our character lies in the instant when we choose to either ignore or defeat that which seeks to destroy us. Fighting out there … it’s the same thing. This country has seen its share of battles and ridden the wings of freedom for a long time, but there are enemies out there who want to kill us, who threaten our very existence, who wish to stifle the God-given rights of every person on the planet. Trust me, I’d much rather stay home, go to baseball games, drink my beer, but I have to do this. I have to defend what’s dear to me – you, your mom, your brother, my country. The right to sit here, to watch people smack a ball around with a stick, to see people act like idiots if they want. I do what I do so they’ll always have the right to do so. I don’t want to die, but if I do, my death won’t be for nothing. After all, what is more honorable than giving one’s life for love of family, country…and freedom.”
He passed away on July 10, 1972 while on active duty. He was one of the most honorable men I have ever known.
On this Fourth of July, while you’re eating your hamburgers and hot dogs, while you’re watching the fireworks, don’t forget to thank the millions like my dad who fought and still fight, to preserve not only our freedoms but freedoms and God-given rights of people around the world. We owe them everything for keeping us free.
So, if you see a Vet or a service man or woman, say thank you. Honor them. Respect them, for they are the keepers of Old Glory. They are the ones who keep us free. Remember the price. Remember the sacrifice.
Freedom is never free.