“Find the cost of freedom buried in the ground,” the Vietnam-era song tells us. “Mother Earth will swallow you, lay your body down.”
This is the message of Memorial Day, when we remember all the American men and women who have paid the ultimate sacrifice to defend our country, its people and its interests.
Some people mark the day participating in or watching community parades and other gatherings that remember and honor our nation’s war casualties. Others take advantage of those freedoms with outings or mini-vacations to enjoy the long holiday weekend.
As Americans who benefit from the sacrifice of our military heroes, we all have a stake in their service. For some families who have directly lost loved ones the day is cathartic, a chance to remember their lost relative and tell stories about their youth and service. Others, however, find it more difficult, as the day prompts them to relive the pain of their loss; memories of those who left their life’s blood on foreign soil are tempered by the thoughts of what might have been if enemy fire hadn’t found its mark.
It’s a great sacrifice — not only for those families but for all Americans. Parents lost their children; others lost brothers and sisters, cousins and best friends. New widows lost the dream of life with that special partner and their children lost a chance to live with a parent they might have been you young to remember. Some families lost the only chance they had to continue their bloodline.
Beyond those personal losses, however, all Americans should weigh the cost of every live that was cut short in the maelstroms of international conflict. Every life represents lost potential, someone who could have contributed to their community, and perhaps even had influence or contributions that affected our country, perhaps the entire world.
Could one of those lost to battle have had special knowledge or insight that inspired great inventions, or perhaps cured disease? How many might have been great business tycoons, strengthening our economy and creating untold numbers of jobs? Who might have become a great head of state, or even local official, pursuing policies that might have made life better for their communities?
Yes, war exacts a great price, perhaps greater than many of us ever thought. But those losses have helped us secure our freedoms, keep our country great and our people prosperous. They have kept opposing forces and ideologies away from our shores. Like all others, our nation has its problems, but our military have ensured that America remains a place where those problems can be debated and addressed.
Those great sacrifices have reaped great rewards.
Stephen Stills wrote an epilogue to his original song on the cost of freedom.
“I think I see a valley, Covered in bones in blue; All the brave soldiers that cannot get older, Been asking after you,” it reminds us.
May we answer that call, and appreciate the great cost that has been paid for the lives we enjoy. And may the families of those who have paid the price feel the gratitude of an entire nation.