The price of yesterday
My family like millions of others enjoyed our country’s birthday yesterday. Our fanfare was reserved to the later afternoon and evening because unlike many others looming deadlines kept us tethered to the computers for a few hours. Nonetheless, the significance of the day was never forgotten. As dawn broke, we posted the “Stars and Stripes” outside our door, and we recounted how incredibly lucky we are to have been born here in the “land of the free”.
The cost of that freedom has never been questioned in our family as military service dots our family tree like the ripe mulberries in our backyard currently. Generations of uncles, cousins, grandfathers and my own sweetie have served proudly in the various branches of the armed forces. We often get a few raised eyebrows when people hear of our college graduation dates because mine is three years before his. When folks learn it is because of my husband’s service during Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm, the incredulous looks we receive are a mixture of gratitude and awe that war changes everything including your college graduation date. The cost of freedom is never free.
In the last month there have been a few experiences that have brought this knowledge to the forefront of my thoughts in unexpected ways. Recently we traveled to one of the absolute best World War II museums, Fagen Fighters. Although we had visited this collection before, our visit that day was to see a travelling Holocaust exhibit featuring Minnesota survivors. Also new to the museum was a German boxcar which houses a two-sided exhibit. One side featuring Nazi officers supervising as a Jewish family exits the boxcar, and the other depicting American soldiers who were prisoners of war. Our visit was emotionally draining as the journey was heart heavy indeed, but I completely lost it when we got to the boxcar. I broke down and sobbed. When I looked in the eyes of the extremely realistic wax figures on the GI side, I felt as if I was looking in the eyes of my great-great uncle, Arlie, who was captured shortly after landing on European soil and was forced to work in awful conditions the remainder of the war. I have only heard bits and pieces of his story as it just wasn’t something he talked about, but I knew enough. And there I stood overcome by my emotions as my baffled family looked on. The cost of freedom is never free.
As a part of our family’s commitment to service we participated in the second annual flag placing for our Modern Woodmen youth service club. For this project our club purchases hundreds of small flags and places them on the graves of veterans in our local cemeteries. It warms my heart that our children and friends spend hours walking cemetery rows, honoring those who gave of their time and energy to answer freedom’s call. Walking in the hot July sun is a small sacrifice compared to what these men and women gave to us. This year one marker really stood out to me and made me wonder how I missed it last year. The inscription told of the greatest sacrifice of the man commemorated there. “He died as prisoner of war in Germany during World War II.” Once again, I was overcome with tears. My people came home from their various wars, but this man’s family wasn’t as lucky. The cost of freedom is never free.
Over the years, I have witnessed some things that I never believed I would like a female college student refusing to stand for the national anthem while seated next to my veteran husband, who had tears pooling in the corners of his eyes. Then there was the time we were shopping in another college town and there were young people protesting soldiers. Protesting war is one thing, protesting soldiers is something altogether different. The sacrifices made by individuals protecting their rights to do so, but both times I wondered how we as a society forget the sacrifices that were made on our behalf.
Twice I was reminded through the eyes of my children that while we can’t jog the collective memories of a nation we can instill patriotism one child at a time. When Reed saw the protesters he asked that we never drive by that corner again, he was too overcome with emotion to explain his daddy was one of the soldiers. Even at his tender age of nine or ten, he knew that the protestations were laid at the wrong boots.
Over the weekend, while tending to the grave of that sweet boy, his baby sister looked around at the North Dakota cemetery and noticed the veteran plaques sitting empty. “Where are their flags momma?” It was a quiet little question, but it reminded me that in her eyes every veteran in every cemetery should be honored with a tiny little flag each Independence Day as a token of our gratitude.
While the prairie wind whispered through my hair, I was reminded she understood the cost of freedom is never free.
For this momma, that was more than enough.