I have this picture in my head and today I am going to try and share it with you. From my earliest memory I see the american soldier as a hero. I know there are some who don’t live up to that image but I believe we have the best involved in helping when called upon to do so.
My first memory of a soldier is my uncle Terry. I was about 10-12 and he was just back from boot camp. I remember stories he told and while the details may be fuzzy the emotions are strong.
I saw his fists and knuckles were scarred and I asked if he got into a fight. He smiled and said no.
“I asked my drill instructor ‘why?’. He then made me do push ups on the asphalt, on my fists until he was tired.”
I had no idea how long he had to do push ups but I figured it took a long time for the drill instructor to get tired. I remember my uncle leaving for someplace called Vietnam but thankfully he came home and he brought that delightful sense of humor back with him.
Ever since then I remember the american soldier with a bit of pride (for my country) and a great admiration. I have images in my head of our soldier liberating Jews from death camps in World War II. Liberating villages in France from the Nazi’s at the same time. Storming the beaches of Normandy at great cost of life and limb and the countless other battles in the name of freedom and liberty for all who want it.
War is ugly and there are certainly stories that belie that belief I have but I choose to focus on the majority of the soldiers I have met. I will talk about one thing I have noticed about soldiers. The ones that have faced their own mortality seem to have a quieter peace about them. A humility that is attractive as opposed to some who are more braggadocios.
My first observation was during the 1st Gulf War, Desert Shield. I knew two guys that would sit on the couch every night and watch CNN showing the battles and reporting the news and say things like ‘I want to go!’ or ‘Let’s go smoke a camel’ and frankly I was puzzled. They were both in the reserves and had never been in battle. One had never been active duty but they seemed anxious to go so I asked one of them ‘why don’t you go?’. His response was ‘my wife won’t let me’. I laughed involuntarily and he got really angry at me. He didn’t see how that was funny. He almost hit me.
The other story I tell is about being at Rolling Thunder with several Vietnam vets at the The Wall. They wanted to tell me about their friends whose names were on the wall. They would walk me over to where their names were and tell me stories about them. Humble and humorous stories about them.
I have mixed feelings about my own experience with war. I did not serve in the military. I was 18 in 1972 and the draft was still going on. My selective service number was 9. That meant that my birthdate was the 9th to be drawn out of the hat and would be the date used to call up soldiers to serve. 9th out of 365. Pretty good odds that I was going to go but that year was the first since 1940 that they called up none. It was the beginning of the all volunteer military for the US.
I didn’t have to go and chose instead to go to school, get married and live a different life than the ones telling me stories. I am glad I was not forced to go and wonder what it would have been like but that day at The Wall, I was told to be happy I was not needed. People like David, Richard and many others gave their time and many more gave their lives so I would not have to.
I am grateful.
One thing that few talk about is how the United States has acquired land in foreign countries as a result of the wars we have fought. Most don’t think about that and few have seen the vast stretches of land we have laid claim to.
Those pictures are of just one of the memorials and cemeteries on some of that land. This one is the final resting place for 17,206 soldiers who gave everything they had in Manila, Philippines. There are 24 such places maintained by the American Battle Monuments Commission and they hold the remains of 124,917 US war dead around the world.
On this July 4th I am reminded of this and have been marinating on the idea of our place in this world. I know there are some wars we have fought in that perhaps we should not have been involved in. I am not trying to make a political statement here. My desire is to reflect on the wars we fought and died in that preserved life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. To remember that freedom is not free and the cost is great to many.
One last story about our place in the world. It is told by Andy Andrews in an interview but I first heard this in his talk on PBS in Nashville.
The point today is that our country, the United States of American has done great things and still does. We were strong enough, rich enough and had the resolve to fight two wars at the same time when Hitler was rolling over Europe and Hirohito was conquering the Pacific. It may have been the decision by one man names Joshua who allowed us to exist like we are today. I don’t know where we are going but I know it can come down to the actions of one person who can make a difference. Everything we do matters.
Reflect today on the freedom we have and the liberty we enjoy. Reflect on what you will do that makes a difference and then go do something. It matters.
Thanks for listening,
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