(As we celebrate our veterans, it is an opportune time to share this article, originally posted by former State Senator Steve Panagiotakos in November of 2022)
Freedom is certainly not free.
It is won and preserved by the service of millions and the sacrifice of heroes. Those of us, who never had to serve, are given these freedoms but make no mistake about it, somebody had to sacrifice for us. In fact, it was a lot of somebodies. It was our veterans.
And, all we’re asked to do, is to remember, honor and appreciate, what they gave. Especially those of us who have never served or are new to this country, we have been given a great gift in this life that others have paid for…Freedom.
President Washington once gave this warning to future Americans,
“The willingness with which our young people are likely to serve in any war, no matter how justified, shall be directly proportional as to how they perceive the veterans of earlier wars are treated and appreciated by their nation.”
Why would anyone serve and sacrifice for an unappreciative nation? As soon as you take the price for Freedom for granted, you take Freedom for granted and when you take Freedom for granted, you have left it weakened and unstable, ready to be knocked over by the first strong wind of belligerence that comes gusting through. To many, who live under oppression, the American military is their only hope for Freedom.
Here’s a story taken from the observations of General Carl E. Vuono that reinforces that statement.
When the Berlin Wall fell, trains of East Germans were allowed to leave for West Germany, with many reuniting with their families after almost 45 years. As that train rambled through the wilderness and the darkness of the night, those on board would undoubtedly press their faces to the windows at the flickering of any light to see where they were, but disappointment after disappointment sent them back to their seats. Then, as they approached the checkpoint in the town of Hof, with the light of dawn finally overcoming the darkness, they could see two soldiers and, suddenly, from the front of the train to the back came the echoing cry;
“There are the Americans…We are free”.
There are the Americans…We are free. What a wonderful and true testament about our veterans and service men and women and what they have meant….Freedom…Freedom for us and Freedom for the world.
On this Veterans Day, let me share with you a couple of stories of service and sacrifice that I hope will leave the same imprint on your heart, mind and patriotic spirit, as they have had on mine. They both have a WWII setting but they are an example of all our veterans and their families throughout America’s history.
I remember reading about Franklin Sousley, one of the Marines, who has been forever memorialized in that famous photograph, as he and his fellow Marines struggled to erect the American flag on the top of Mount Suribachi on Iwo Jima.
Franklin had lost his father at the age of nine. Because of that great void, he and his mother had grown closer and closer. A few days after erecting our flag on Iwo, Franklin gave his life for us… on that black sulfur island ….a half a world away…an island that before this battle 99.9% of Americans didn’t even know existed.
He was only nineteen years old with all his dreams and life ahead of him.
The tragic news was sent to his mother by a telegram transmitted to the General Store in Hilltop, Kentucky and was run out to the family homestead by a little barefoot farm boy. The neighbors said that they could hear his mother, as if she was right there on their porch, screaming and crying all through the night to the morning hours. The neighbors lived… a quarter… of a mile… away.
Deep…Deep heartache. The kind that never goes away. That’s what our Freedom cost and that’s what we are called to remember, honor and appreciate, the service and sacrifice of our veterans and their loved ones.
When the 50th Anniversary of Pearl Harbor came up in 1991, I saw an article about one of my best friend’s dad in the paper. I couldn’t believe what I was reading. I knew this man for years. I was over the house all the time and never once, not once, did anything come up about Pearl Harbor or a Silver Star.
On the morning of Sunday, December 7, 1941, while he was headed to the mess hall at Hickam Field, all hell broke loose, Japanese planes like swarms of bees, everywhere, bombing and strafing the area with their deadly firepower and with special attention on destroying the American aircraft… which they did… out of 394 aircraft, 188 were destroyed and 159 damaged.
Charlie quickly ran to one of those planes and manned a machinegun and started firing. With the enemy fire hitting all around him, he kept firing, downing one Japanese plane and sending another one smoking off into the Pacific to its probable demise.
Only 29 Japanese planes were downed during the entire Pearl Harbor attack.
I went over to the house at 43 Staples Street in Lowell and there was Charlie, as he often was, at the kitchen table, lighting his pipe. I excitedly said, “Mr. P, I didn’t know you were a hero!” And I’ll never, ever, forget his response.
He took his pipe out of his mouth, and looked down and then started to clean it. A few seconds, that seemed like an eternity passed, as if he were thousands of miles away, then he looks up to me and says….
“No Steve, I’m not a hero. The boys that never made it back, they’re the heroes”.
In his short, sincere, solemn response, Charlie taught me the absolute truth about how our veterans viewed their service, no matter how heroic, as nothing, in comparison to the sacrifice of those, who never made it back.
Though we always give special remembrance to those that never made it back, especially on Memorial Day, we, also, always remember, honor and appreciate all that served for us…for our Freedom.
Let me leave you with this.
On the 20th anniversary of D Day in 1964, General and, at the time, former President, Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Supreme Commander of the Allied forces during WWII, went back to Normandy. As he looked out over Omaha Beach, the site of all that destruction and death, chaos and casualties, he saw a peaceful and playful scene of people enjoying themselves in their usual beach activities. And he said;
“But it’s a wonderful thing to remember what those fellows twenty years ago were fighting for and sacrificing for, what they did to preserve our way of life. Not to conquer any territory, not for any ambition of our own. But to make sure that Hitler could not destroy freedom in the world.”
Freedom for us…Freedom for the world…that’s what our veterans have meant…and we should always remember it, honor it and appreciate it, especially on Veterans Day.