The Cost of Freedom


Editor’s note: The following is an excerpt of the address given Monday by John Thompson to commemorate Memorial Day at the Jefferson Cemetery in 2016.

Just over 150 years ago, Americans celebrated what is now known as Memorial Day to honor those that died in the Civil War. Combat was brought right to the doorsteps of people’s homes. Entire communities were ravaged by violent battles and diseases brought on by hostile environments. Americans everywhere had seen, felt, lost and sacrificed for their nation.
In the hundred years that followed, every generation faced a calling that required Americans to stand up for our freedom. World War I, World War II, Korea and Vietnam; these conflicts had a profound impact on the generations that participated. If you were a man growing up at any time in those 100 years, you knew that one evil person could cause a threat to our Republic that would require you to personally take up arms and serve our nation in uniform.
Our cemeteries are full of men and women who answered that calling to give us a better world. And because of their duty and sacrifice, we do have a better world.
I was born in 1979, six years after the last service members were recalled from Vietnam. I was in the first generation to grow up in an America where the threat of violence in combat did not seem inevitable. My generation felt that even if the threat visited our nation, it was one to be answered by volunteers. To bring that into my life, I had to actually choose to bring it in my life.
My generation never appreciated the sort of patriotism that was founded in a spirit of men and women that to their bones felt that at any time they may be called upon to personally fight for the survival of our nation. This is the peace of mind the generations before us fought for for more than the last 150 years. It is a peace of mind that we can raise our children in the safety and security of our communities assuming they won’t have to make the same sacrifices as those that came before us.
But we must not take our safety for granted. We also cannot afford to ignore the sacrifice and loss that has made us a strong nation. And we must not take for granted those that still sacrifice and those we still lose in armed conflict.
During the Civil War, almost 8,000 Americans died at Gettysburg. During World War I, more than 26,000 people were killed at Argonne. More than 29,000 died at Normandy during World War II. These were single battles with a devastating toll on the U.S.
In the last 14 years, there were a total of 6,852 Americans that gave their life in the Global War on Terror. The impact of that loss is still felt in our nation. Certainly, it has been felt in our community. But a combat death has become somewhat of a rarity. It visits families at a lower rate than automobile accidents and rare diseases. The death of one service member is reported to the chairman of the joint chiefs.
We appreciate the honor and sacrifices of those that still serve but for most people it is not a part of their daily lives. The global state of affairs may affect what people see on the evening news or the price of gasoline, but it is unlikely to change their weekend plans.
When a soldier returns today from war, he or she is usually met with resounding applause and cheering at an airport. They don’t have to face the hostile crowds of those that avoided service spitting on them as they try to reconnect with their family. They don’t have to face the hostile veterans of preceding wars that treat them like they didn’t fight in a real war. They get treated momentarily with open arms and congratulations.
But when that moment passes, our veterans face a new problem. They return to a world that really doesn’t understand the cost of freedom. They try and adjust in communities of men and women who got to grow up putting combat out of their mind. The people aren’t ungrateful to the veterans. They just don’t think about it.
They may see a man return from conflict with burn marks or missing limbs. They feel terrible that somebody had to give so much. They struggle to keep their children from pointing or asking questions. But mostly they feel uncomfortable when they encounter such situations and try to hurriedly remove themselves and their children.
They look away from the scars. They drive to their homes. And they put it out of their mind.
And it’s not much better for those veterans that returned with their scars on the inside. They have seen their friends burn to death in vehicles. They have tried with all their strength to pull their teammates out of the line of fire so they can stop the bleeding before it’s too late. And they have encountered so many times when it was too late.
We come back with this on our soul. We walk around with it every day. We struggle to sleep through an entire night knowing that we need to keep our scars on the inside or fear that the people around us will quickly scurry off to return to their normal lives where dinner is at 6 and freedom is free.
And we now live in a world where 22 veterans take their lives every day because they feel like they have come back to a world where people do not understand the sacrifices our friends made, the sacrifices we have made ourselves … to return home to communities where people take them for granted because they feel like freedom is free.
War is a terrible thing. It is a high price to pay. It is uncomfortable to think about and an easy thing to keep out of our mind.
But now more than ever, Memorial Day is important to remind us here in Greene County that freedom isn’t free.
We must raise our children as patriots so they remember that freedom isn’t free. We must teach them to recite the Pledge of Allegiance so they understand that freedom isn’t free. We must teach them to stand at attention as Old Glory passes in a parade so they remember that freedom isn’t free. We need to show them how to face the flag during our national anthem to remind them that freedom isn’t free. And in a world where it’s easy to put bad things out of our minds, we must take them to memorials and services to honor the men and women that gave their lives so they can grow up understanding that freedom isn’t free.
We must not take for granted the peace of mind the generations before have given us because otherwise — once again — our sons and daughters will become complacent and will have to be reminded in blood that freedom isn’t free.

I’d like to take you back 150 years to close with the words of one of the final casualties of the civil war. A man that led our nation during the battle at Gettysburg that claimed so many Americans. As he dedicated their memorial on the battleground he read

“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Thank you for coming today and God Bless the United States of America.