Freedom's Hardest Work: A Veteran's Day Salute

Jan N. Masaryk, a Czechoslovakian statesman of late, once declared to an American audience: "Raised in liberty, most Americans accept their freedom as a matter of course. Sometimes it seems to me you free people don't realize what you've got .... You wake up in the morning free to do as you choose, to read what you wish, to worship the way you please, and to listen to a lovely piece of music."

How easy it is to take our freedom for granted! Freedom is the source of great music -- the strength of flaming oratory -- the impetus behind great literature -- the nurture of religion -- the hope of our passions. But freedom is not free. It has an exacting price, one that requires the beneficiaries of freedom to do its work.

Historians win our freedom as they record the horrors of man's inhumanity to humanity. Preachers and politicians win our freedom as they provide the analysis and the inspiration to secure and sustain it. The common man, the ordinary person, wins our freedom when demanding by life and lip the restoration of morality and integrity as the bedrock of our system. Nevertheless, the person who does the hardest work of freedom serves in our nation's armed forces.

From the Revolutionary War to Operation Iraqi Freedom, the American soldier's heart beats like a trip hammer as the sound of gunfire pops and cracks in the distance and bombs explode nearby. There is the harsh and ugly reality of war -- blood and guts -- fire and smoke -- the smell of death -- the journey into the mouth of hell. This price the solider pays so freedom becomes a reality rather than just a lofty dream espoused by a few idealists.

Yet even this is not the full scope of their sacrifice. There's the family and friends left behind and the missed anniversaries -- birthdays -- a child's first steps -- a daughter's first prom -- a son's homerun. There's the gentle touch of a spouse's caress -- the comforts of home -- the joy of the holidays with loved ones near -- all of these the soldier must be willing to forgo that freedom may live.

But even then, more may be required. For the ravages of war will cause some to lose their sanity and be afflicted with various forms of post–traumatic stress. Some will lose their eyesight, or their hearing, or both. Some will live the remainder of their days in a wheelchair, while others learn to operate prosthetic limbs. Some will be hideously scarred. Some will have to cope with mysterious illnesses, causing a lifetime of chronic pain and distress. And most every solider who sees combat will live with the grief of a lost comrade in arms and wonder why it wasn't him instead.

John Adams, in a letter, once wrote: "Posterity! You will never know how much it cost the present generation to preserve your freedom! I hope you will make good use of it. If you do not, I shall repent it in heaven that I ever took the pains to preserve it." Indeed, and we dare not forget the Soldier, the Airmen, the Marine, the Sailor and the Mariner who did the hardest work of freedom to preserve it for us!!!

In A Greater Freedom: Stories of Faith from Operation Iraqi Freedom, edited by Oliver North and authored by Sara Horn, Horn writes of Lieutenant Johnnie "Cooter" Caldwell, a pilot deployed aboard the U.S.S. Truman. Caldwell's missions over the skies of Iraq are high stress, says Horn. But Caldwell says he "is especially strengthened by the text in Ephesians 6, about putting on the whole armor of God. 'It talks about your breastplate of righteousness, your shield of faith, your helmet of salvation,' he recalls. 'It says the reason why we must take up the full armor of God is to resist the evil one, and having prepared everything, you take a stand.'"

Caldwell's "voice catches and he turns his face away," says Horn. "A connection of what it's all about takes visible form .... His suddenly moist eyes reflect the understanding of the commitment and calling he feels God has given him -- however risky, however hard." This husband, "father of two, and defender of millions understands the feeling of patriotism and honor that comes from the commitment he has made to serve" his country.

"He clears his throat," writes Horn, "and repeats what he just said: 'It says for us to stand.' Another blink. A pause. 'I really like that,'" says Caldwell.

On Veteran's Day, or any other day for that matter, when any of us sees a person in uniform or greets an individual who served in the military, we ought to shake their hand, look them straight in the eye and say: "Thank you -- thank you for your sacrifice in taking a stand for our country. Thank you for making my liberty possible by your willingness to do freedom's hardest work." Just then, and maybe only then, we'll be a tad more worthy of the freedoms we take for granted everyday.