Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Land of the Free

As a young girl I had the honor and privilege to be a member of a very special group of young people - the Junior Legion Auxillary. My time in this group taught me many things that I have made my best effort to pass on to my children; most importantly freedom is not free.

My Grandfather was a World War II Veteran having served in the European and African Campaigns. He was an all American guy with a feverent love of baseball - the Minnesota Twins. He raised a family of five children and carried many memories throughout his lifetime. Although he returned from "over there" relatively unscathed physically, except an injury to his leg, the memories of days so dark and terrifying lived inside of him all his days.

Each year, as Memorial Day approached, he seemed to become more quiet and withdrawn as he remembered each buddy, each soul, each friend that was left behind. The boys who did not come home to raise a family and achieve the American dream. He never spoke of those days; willingly. Not to the family anyway. Perhaps during quiet evenings alone with Grandma he did. We will never know for sure. He was honorably discharged as a Corporal of the United States Army at the end of WWII.

My two Great-Aunts also served during WWII in the WACs - Women's Army Corps. My Uncle served in the U.S. Army as well with at least one tour in Korea. Each year my Grandfather, Uncle and my two Great-Aunts would march down mainstreet carrying the flags of freedom in the annual Memorial Day parade. The Memorial Day activities were a somber reminder of what freedom really costs.

I recall sitting in the bleachers of the town hall listening to the lists of names as they were read; each name reverently - one by one. Men and women who had served in WWI, WWII, Korea, and Vietnam. The POWs who may never be found or returned home. Men and women who sacrificed everything so that I might have some. As I sat listening with my sisters, I could hear weeping in the audience. After the town hall service we would all go to the cemetery south of town to honor the soldiers buried there. My heart would jump in my chest, my hands would begin to tremble, and a lump would build in my throat three times as the shots were fired into the air. Although I was but just a girl, tears would well up in my eyes and spill over as the lone trumpeter began to play Taps. I felt the great loss in that cemetery. I felt the sorrow coming from the family members of the soldiers buried there. It was there I learned that freedom is not free.

Today, we, as American citizens, have sons and daughters serving in combat zones. I have a niece, of whom I am very proud, serving in the United States Air Force. She is currently states side for which I am very grateful. My daughters have a cousin who just recently returned from Afghanistan - again for which we are very grateful and proud.

For my Native American friends and family members: Native Americans have more serving military personnel per capita than all other ethnic groups combined in the United States.

For my home State of North Dakota: North Dakota has the most serving military personnel per capita than any other State.

When you see the flag of freedom flying by this weekend take a moment to show respect for the men and women who are not present at the backyard barbeques, weekend at the lake or celebrating the graduation of a family member. Their Memorial Day weekend is spent in the dirt and mud, and bathed in the blood of freedom.

Never forget: All gave some and some gave all.