With my grandson’s permission, I am posting his essay titled, “Freedom Isn’t Free”. Cain is the first-born son of my first-born son, Mark. They are alike in ways that they have yet to discover. Mark and Cain share a passion with Mark’s dad, David (deceased) for history with an emphasis on military history. They also share an amazing ability with the language both written and verbal. Cain received the top award from the Holland and Knight Holocaust Essay contest. You can read that essay on http://holocaust.hklaw.com
Freedom Isn’t Free by David Cain Day Reprinted With Permission
What defines a hero? Webster would have one believe a hero is “a man of great strength and courage, favored by the gods and in part descended from them, often regarded as a half-god and worshipped after his death.”(“Hero”) The people of Gotham would point you towards Batman, whereas a baseball fan might direct you to Cooperstown. The house-cat might tell tales of a lion, while the goldfish may dream of Moby Dick. In short, a hero is not a formulated being absolute in its definition, but is amorphous and unique to each of us. To me, a hero is a man or woman willing to risk everything in defense of the principles of America: a man or woman who puts his or her self in mortal danger so I can call myself an American and live free of oppressive regimes and tyrannical leaders. In my eighteen years, I have been lucky enough to have met many such Americans. However, one hero stands out brightest amongst them.
On September 18, 2008, Medal of Honor recipient Ronald E. Rosser visited my high school. He shared with us a powerful and moving oration about his service in the Korean War and what it means to conduct oneself with honor. During his speech, Mr. Rosser, as most humble men do, barely touched upon his own exceptional courage and selflessness, preferring to lead us to some measure of understanding. What he wished for us to understand are simple words with profound meaning. Honor, sacrifice, courage, freedom: all words which define America and her struggles, yet are difficult to explain, quantify or, perhaps, to truly appreciate.
As Medal of Honor Recipient Rosser spoke, the student body sat silent, absorbed by this man and his message. He spoke bluntly, not needing embellishment to convey his creed directly and effectively. He told of a life lived to the fullest, with each moment appreciated and savored. His story had little to do with the horror of war and intensity of battle. His words were of opportunity and fulfillment.
To this decorated hero, the medal worn around his neck was a symbol of honor for and service to his country rather than a symbol of his own heroism. But Rosser is not a man like any other. His heroism, his actions in battle, set him apart from other men and women. He single-handedly killed at least 13 enemy soldiers and aided wounded comrades after having himself suffered injuries (“MOH Citation…). And yet, despite all of this, he did not consider himself a hero; he considered himself blessed because he had returned home to become a teacher and police chief. Such was the power of this man’s patriotism. He was not compelled to kill and, if necessary, die by a need for greatness or fame. He was compelled to serve because what he loved (his family, country, and way of life) had been threatened. This is the measure of a true patriot, and this is what has inspired millions of Americans to serve their country.
I often wonder; if thrust into the terrible and violent circumstance of war, would I be able to reach within myself and, as Mr. Rosser did, tear courage from my soul? In the face of horror, could I conduct myself with honor, dignity and valor? If it became necessary, would I be willing to leave my body on the battlefield of American History, defending the greatest experiment in freedom, democracy and liberty the world has ever known? Ronald E. Rosser faced these same questions and made his decision. He served his country, and he is not alone. Every man and woman who has served, and sometimes died, defending the United States of America has served for me, has served for you, has served the country and most importantly has served Freedom. They have risked it all; they have paid the ultimate price. We are their living memorial, and we are their living legacy.
Almost 232 years before Ronald E. Rosser made the trip to my school, the first Americans cast the dice in the greatest gamble in the history of man’s pursuit of self-determination. When the members of the Second Continental Congress voted to approve Richard Henry Lee’s Resolution of Independence, they seized their destiny from the grip of providence and forged their own path into history. Two days later, when the declaration Thomas Jefferson penned was approved, the world witnessed the birth of the first nation founded on the principle of liberty. However, the road to nationhood was by no means easy or certain.
A bitter war of independence proved to Americans that freedom was not free and would not come easily. For eight brutal years, revolutionaries spilled their blood in a fight that would come to define the men and women who dared call themselves Americans. Against overwhelming odds, our forefathers wrested independence from the clenches of an absent tyrant and declared to the world “We shall be free!” However, that struggle for freedom was only the beginning.
Over the next two and one-third centuries, Americans of all races, creeds and classes would take up arms in defense of the virtues and principles of our great nation. Not all would fight, and not all would witness battle, but every single one of them contributed an invaluable service to the preservation of freedom. Nurses, corporals, mechanics, pilots, doctors, generals, ensigns, admirals, cooks and so many more, all worked to defend the doctrine of liberty on which America was founded. Even those who were, in the beginning, disenfranchised and discriminated against understood that while our government may be flawed, our country was truly great.
In World War II, Executive Order 9066 was signed sending more than 120,000 Japanese Americans to internment camps. However, these loyal Americans understood that even though racism and fear had gripped some in their nation, their country still needed their service. The 442nd Regimental Combat Team was comprised solely of Japanese Americans. The 442nd Regimental Combat Team went on to become the most highly decorated unit in United States military history. No men better understood the fact that Freedom isn’t Free. When their freedom was taken from them, these Americans still mustered the courage and inner steel to fight for the United States. Men like this epitomize the greatness of America and the character of her citizens.
Due to history and sheer numbers, most Americans think solely of men when they consider soldiers. However, heroism has no gender.
Sgt. Leigh Ann Hester, a soldier in the 617th Military Police Company, successfully defended her convoy from an insurgent attack while serving in the Iraqi theatre. During the course of the battle, Sgt. Hester lead her team in a counter attack, clearing two trenches and killing three enemies. For her gallantry and composure under fire, Sgt. Hester received the third-highest military decoration in the United States, the Silver Star. (Tyson). This soldier is an American hero, plain and simple. While some may say she has no place in the armed forces, Sgt. Hester has demonstrated otherwise. Sgt. Hester and many female soldiers have, in the great American tradition, swept aside prejudices, biases and preconceptions, writing a new chapter in history. All soldiers and veterans transcend banal categorizations, existing instead on an echelon of courage difficult to comprehend. Within this stratum resides a group of Americans who know, maybe more than anyone alive, what the true cost of freedom is.
In every war America has fought there have been soldiers wounded while defending her principles. The severities of wounds are far-ranging and can take a toll in countless ways. Some are obvious such as missing limbs. Some are not so obvious–but just as devastating–such as post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental illnesses. Yet no matter the type of wound, any soldier returning home with a part of him or her missing comprehends the full meaning of the words Freedom isn’t Free. Each time a soldier suffers pain in a phantom limb, relives the hell of battle in flashback or nightmare, learns to use a prosthesis or wheelchair she is reminded of the price she paid. When a soldier comes home to find he is no longer able to embrace his child because an improvised explosive device has destroyed his arms he understand the terrible cost of freedom. America’s wounded veterans are possibly the bravest of us all. They are the lucky and the damned: lucky to be alive and damned to live the rest of their lives bearing an awful burden. So, the next time you hear a beautiful opus, marvel at a majestic landscape, walk down the street, or simply write your name, remember that somewhere is an American Veteran who cannot. And remember, they live each day, each minute knowing full well that Freedom isn’t Free.
While the profiles I have provided deal mostly with men and women of the Armed Forces who have been awarded medals for valor, nearly all who served are worthy of deep respect. Any person willing to lay down his or her life so we may live in peace and freedom is a hero.
Now, more than 200 years since the birth of our nation, I live in the freest country in the world. America. I write, unafraid that my words will be censored or my voice stifled. I know that my basic rights and liberties will be, and have been, defended. I reap what Sgt. Hester, the men of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, America’s wounded veterans and Mr. Rosser have sown. I am free because those who came before me gave so much.
I often find myself drawn back to that September day and Mr. Rosser’s words. To be honest, two years ago I did not have the degree of awareness or appreciation of Mr. Rosser’s sacrifice which I do now. In two more years, I expect to find myself understanding it on yet a deeper level. Time and maturity bring clarity and poignancy to the story of America and her citizens’ struggle for freedom.
And therein resides the genius of Mr. Rosser’s appeal. Although he spoke to an audience of children, he spoke with such subtlety and wisdom that he ensured his meaning would continually reveal itself as those children became adults. His visit to my school was not an attempt to ease the boredom of retirement; it was a whole-hearted endeavor by one American Veteran to describe his patriotism and unyielding faith in the United States of America.
Thankfully, to most of us the concepts behind Mr. Rosser’s words are not concepts at all‑ but realities. The majority of us do not rise each morning wondering what new hell awaits us. We do not rise speculating whether or not we have the courage to fall on a grenade thus saving our brothers. Most of us do not rise to find ourselves fighting on foreign soil, or worse our own. We arise each morning safe, secure and free. And we do so thanks to the countless men and women like Mr. Rosser.
The greatest manner in which someone can thank another is emulation. Through emulation, we make our appreciation obvious to the world. However, when I consider the price the men and women who served our country paid, and still pay, I cannot imagine them wishing that toll on anyone. The price is not a one-time cost. Some Americans must continue to face the horror, so we may look away. They are the brave‑the few. For the rest of us, the greatest thank you we can extend to our veterans and soldiers is complete and unapologetic exercise of the rights they have and continue to protect. So, I implore us all to cherish our freedom, honor our rights and hold dear our liberties. And never, ever, forget the price that was paid to secure them.