The Cost of Freedom

LUKE AIR FORCE BASE, Ariz. -- This past Veterans Day I found it heartwarming and enlightening to feel the support from the local community, all the way from the young children at the local schools, to the local World War II veterans in the local community. I also had the experience to see the different perspectives of what freedom meant to them. The younger children explained freedom to them as being able to choose whatever video game they would like to play, or by being able to go to a friend's birthday party and choose whatever type of soda they would like to drink. The older generation explained it as being able to just live in this exact moment, with zero worries and knowing what they have provided has enabled their families and every other citizen to live the lifestyle they have chosen to live.

After sitting down, having lunch and trading war stories with two gentlemen in their assisted living complex on Veterans Day, I feel we came to a mutual agreement.  The wars we fight today are so drastically different from the wars they fought yesterday, by having different combat styles, equipment, technology and sadly sometimes even community backing, but at the same time we all have one unified goal.  Win at all costs even if it comes to cashing in that blank check we all sign when we first raise our right hands, to provide the freedom and lifestyle we are all accustomed to.  The stories they shared proved these brave men and women were willing to cash the check if needed.  One gentlemen explained the efforts he put forth while storming onto Omaha Beach and then again in the Battle of the Bulge.  He went further on to tell the story about how he was shot and after his recovery his orders were incorrect and he was sent back into combat instead of being returned to the states. 

Another gentleman who is a retired Air Force B-25 pilot shared with us the story about his 16th mission over Germany when his aircraft was riddled with bullet holes and how he was one of the few to survive the crash to only be captured and taken as a prisoner of war for approximately one year.  He continued on to explain how the camp, where he was being held captive, was eventually liberated by none other than Gen. George Patton and his brigade.  These are stories you only read about in textbooks or see on the history channel, but these gentlemen lived it. They are the history we all learn about in grad school, and it was an honor just to be sitting at the same table.  Truthfully, I felt out of place and less important to say the least as I sat amongst these men and received thanks from them.  I quickly returned the thanks and departed with a salute to each to show my respect.

As I listened to the stories these gentlemen shared with me, I also thought back to how many times my own grandfather would capture my undivided attention.  I could sit in front of him and listen for hours.  It wasn't often he would tell these stories, but when he did, it was like everything in the world stopped.  My grandfather played a vital role in my choice to join the military, even though the Air Force wasn't the branch he would have chosen for me, being a prior Marine.  I still knew he was proud either way because we both had the ultimate goal-- provide this great nation with the freedom that our ancestors have been doing throughout time.  The day I left for basic military training, February 5, 1996, I will never forget the words he told me "fly them, don't fix them."  Well Gramp, I never made it to flying them, but I can sleep easy at night knowing that I gave it my all. I exhausted all my efforts by fixing them and training my replacements to do the same. I knew other brave men and women could fly them. I have nothing but the highest confidence in our future men and women who will wear the uniform of whatever branch they choose, because in the end we are all defending this great nation together.