“We have enjoyed so much freedom for so long that we are perhaps in danger of forgetting how much blood it cost to establish the Bill of Rights”. ~ Felix Frankfurter (1882-1965), Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court
This morning I attended our annual Memorial Day service put on by our local American Legion Hall and Boy Scout Troop. Usually we have it at the local cemetery where we can have a visual reminder of the cost of freedom, but due to the thunderstorm and lightening, it was moved to one of our local churches. As part of the service, we were told the story of Range Setter Robert D. Hagan, of the USS Bismarck Sea, which was sunk during the Battle of Iwo Jima on 21 February, 1945. It was the last US Navy Aircraft Carrier lost during World War II, and along with it 318 men.
As our American Legion chaplain, and also nephew to Range Setter Hagan, related the story of the battle, and how the ship was destroyed and sunk, I could not help but think of those men lost, and what they must have gone through. I also thought of those survivors who watched their fellow shipmates die. I did not know these men. I was not even yet born, but I still felt myself choke up at the sacrifice they made for my freedom. There is a cost to liberty, and it is never cheap. It is paid with the blood of those who stand before enemy fire, bombs, shrapnel and face death for our sake. This is the true cost of freedom, and only the select few are chosen to be worthy of its payment.
As I write this, it is still a dark, dreary, wet and rainy day. Unlike Memorial Days that have gone before, it is not the ideal day for a BBQ with friends. And perhaps that is a good thing. We need to be reminded of the sadness that surrounds this day too. The flag that stands at half-staff in my yard is only so because of those that have died defending it. As a nation, I think that we have grown too complacent, too secure in our freedom that we civilians have been lax to protect it. While our soldiers fight overseas, we neglect the very thing they are fighting for here at home. You see, the preservation of liberty is not just for the soldier; while they fight overseas fulfilling their duty, we must do our duty by keeping that flame alive here. Otherwise our soldiers will return and merely find that the whiffs of tyranny had followed them home.
If you paid a great price for something, would you not do everything possible to protect it? We insure our houses, cars, even ourselves from loss, yet too many of us do nothing to protect the freedom that was bought at such a high cost to so many. Was it because we did not personally pay for it? Or is it because we think it is someone else’s responsibility? The problem is, that liberty, once lost, is even far more costly to regain than it is to retain. There is only one way to ensure its protection: action. We are all responsible in varying degrees to pay the cost it takes to preserve it for the next generation. Some become soldiers, some run for office, others attend school board meetings and public forms, others write letters, articles, and call on those in charge to hold them accountable; our voice is meant for far greater things than just voting (which often by then it is too late to change anything). And yet, for far too many of our citizens, even the act of voting is far too high a price to pay to protect freedom’s flame.
This must change. The members of America’s greatest generation are slowly leaving us, and they bore witness to how great a cost the preservation of liberty really is. Sure, wars were fought after WWII, and will continue to be fought, but none with such a clear view of what evil was, and what it would do if not faced and defeated. We need such clarity now, and that can only come from America’s people. It no longer emanates from Washington DC. Liberty for liberty’s sake is now considered a threat to power, and is only temporarily embraced in word or deed if it furthers a political agenda of some kind. True, there are still those rare few there who face and stand against the tarnishing of freedom, but they are now seriously outnumbered.
The question now for my fellow Americans is this: there are more of us who love liberty than there are of those that do not, so are we willing to be inconvenienced in its defense? Or do we find our own lives and lifestyles far more important than the liberty of the next generation? What will you do? Are you willing to pick up some of the cost? I hope for the sake of Range Setter Robert D. Hagan, whose hand I had the honor of shaking this morning, you do. The blood price that has already been paid must not be for naught.
It must not. Not now. Not ever.
“Men fight for liberty and win it with hard knocks. Their children, brought up easy, let it slip away again, poor fools. And their grandchildren are once more slaves”. ~ D.H. Lawrence, Classical American Literature, 1922