Though I never served in the military, I’ve benefited from the impact of several significant influences, both in my family and among friends who served. My life is richer for having known them, learned from them, heard their stories, and shared in their perspectives.
My family has had more than a few soldiers and sailors, and we’ve been very fortunate seeing our loved ones come home.
Somehow he raised a family along the way, too. Gampa told stories often, but navy stories rarely; when he did, I listened. Most of the time, he chose to focus on the positive experiences— sharing all the places in the world he had seen, opening my eyes to the bigness of the world. However, when he spoke about those who have made the ultimate sacrifice— those we memorialize today— his words were NOT hollow; they held the weight of meaning.In fact, looking back, Gampa said very few things that didn’t hold meaning. Even his jokes were laced with lessons. People in the community seemed to recognize that he had something meaningful to say.
One of my first basketball coaches was a Vietnam War vet. When I visited his home, I always noticed the medals hanging in his office, but he never spoke about them. One of those medals was a purple heart. Most in our community knew him as a reliable professional, as if that wartime soldier was compartmentalized into another time and another life. I think he probably wanted it that way, but I’ll never forget one afternoon when he opened up and told his son and me out of the blue. He told us the story behind that purple heart. How he’d been shot three times in the stomach and lost several brothers that day. How he’d been forced to play dead while bodies were inspected by the Vietcong and how he’d crawled what seemed like miles in the jungle to get back to relative safety.
It was due to these stories and others that when, as a high school senior, I walked into Arlington Cemetery for the first time, I was immediately struck by the impact and meaning of the place. Though some of my peers failed to sense the weight, I was immediately struck by the mass of men and women who not only served but gave their lives for our country. I looked out at what seemed like a sea of white head stones and my heart surged while my eyes filled with tears. These tears were tears of grief, hope, admiration, and of thanks.
Whatever you may be enjoying today in this great republic founded upon the concept of individual freedom, don’t fail to honor their memory.
There is no greater gift that a man may give than his life. Take time to remember that you and I have benefited from thousands of men and women who gave that ultimate gift.
We experience more freedom as a result of their sacrifice. What we do with our freedom matters. How we spend the gift they gave matters. Enjoy the day and embrace your freedom.
Use your freedom wisely, and live well! This post first appeared on getkickstop.com