The Cost of Freedom by Ira Schwartz

Ira Schwartz
As a child growing up in a small suburban town just outside New York City I always looked forward to “Memorial Day”. Besides the obvious thrill of being off from school, I always looked forward to our “Memorial Day” parade. It stretched half way through the city and included fire trucks, police cars, High School bands, the local chapter of the VFW, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and several sharply dressed military drill teams. Most of the 75,000 that lived in Mt. Vernon would line the streets to watch the parade go by. They would smile and holler as the fire engines sounded their air horns and sirens but would always go silent with respect as the local VFW chapter would march past. I remember how proud they always were, with their medals on their chests and their unit emblems on their hats. And how they would always break out in sad, uncomfortable smiles as applause erupted from the crowd.
The parade would always end up in our local park where dignitaries would make speeches while the veterans sat quietly and listened. Soldiers representing the joint services would then place a wreath at the base of our war memorial followed by a 21 gun salute and a lone trumpeter playing taps. Then the crowd would slowly disperse, most heading home to be with family and friends.
Today most of us know the significance of this holiday but are either too busy with the family or too preoccupied to take the time to remember those this day was meant to acknowledge. Parades are fast becoming as scarce as a $2.00 a gallon gas price and heartwarming speeches have turned into 30 second sound bites for the news. Here’s a little history to help refresh your memory.
Decoration Day was officially decreed a holiday on May 5th 1868 by General John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic and was first observed on May 30th 1868, when flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery.
Gen. Logan’s order for his posts to decorate the graves “with the choicest flowers of springtime” and “We should guard their graves with sacred vigilance. … Let pleasant paths invite the coming and going of reverent visitors and fond mourners. Let no neglect, no ravages of time, testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten as a people the cost of a free and undivided republic.”
New York was the first state to officially recognize the holiday in 1873. By 1890 it was recognized by all of the northern states. The South refused to acknowledge the day, honoring their dead on separate days until after World War I when the holiday changed from honoring just those who died fighting in the Civil War to honoring Americans who died fighting in any war. It is now celebrated in almost every State on the last Monday in May due to the National Holiday Act of 1971 passed by Congress to ensure a three day weekend for Federal holidays. The name of “Memorial Day” was first used in 1882 but was not declared the official name until 1967.

“I do solemnly swear or affirm that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign or domestic, and I will bare true faith and allegiance to the same.  I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the officers appointed over me according to the regulations  and the Uniform Code of Military Justice…So Help Me God.”

The above is the military oath that each enlistee, regardless of branch of service, is required by law to take. This oath, in one form or another, has been around since 1775 and was first administered on June 14th to those men who wished to join the Continental Army. It’s simple and to the point and speaks volumes of what our military is all about. Though each branch of our armed forces has its own slogan regarding service and duty the oldest and best know is The Marine corp’s “Semper Fidelis”; Always Faithful.
Over the years “Memorial Day” and speeches seem to go hand and hand. And there have been a lot of excellent speeches. However, in my opinion the best of the best is listed below.
“We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate…we can not consecrate…we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
The above is an excerpt from President Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. Like I said it’s clearly the best of the best.
To date 2,757,196 American service men and woman have given their lives defending the freedoms we enjoy today. Sadly that number goes up almost daily. They didn’t place themselves in “harms way” for medals or for glory; they did it for honor and for duty, values that seem to have slowly vanished in today’s society.
In December of 2000 a resolution called “The National Moment of Remembrance” was passed. It asks that at 3 p.m. local time, all Americans ” voluntarily and informally observe in their own way a Moment of Remembrance and Respect, pausing from whatever they are doing for a moment of silence or listening to ‘Taps.” This was designed to reacquaint Americans in the true meaning of “Memorial Day”. It’s a sad testament to our times that resolutions need to be passed to remind us to do this. You would think the daily news stories regarding our troops fighting and dying in Iraq and Afghanistan would be enough. Or maybe we just need less half hearted speeches by our political leaders and more good old fashion “Memorial Day” parades.
Below is a poem written in 1981 by LTCD. Kelly Strong USCG(Ret.) He was in high school when he wrote the poem.

FREEDOM IS NOT FREE
I watched the flag pass by one day,
It fluttered in the breeze;
A young Marine saluted it,
And then he stood at ease.
I looked at him in uniform,
So young, so tall, so proud;
With hair cut square and eyes alert,
He’d stand out in any crowd.
I thought… how many men like him
Had fallen through the years?
How many died on foreign soil?
How many mothers’ tears?
How many pilots’ planes shot down
How many died at sea
How many foxholes were soldiers’ graves
No, Freedom is not Free.
I heard the sound of Taps one night,
When everything was still;
I listened to the bugler play,
And felt a sudden chill;
I wondered just how many times
That Taps had meant “Amen”
When a flag had draped a coffin
Of a brother or a friend;
I thought of all the children,
Of the mothers and the wives,
Of fathers, sons and husbands.
With interrupted lives.
I thought about a graveyard
At the bottom of the sea,
Of unmarked graves in Arlington.
No. Freedom is not Free!

“Freedom is not Free” – ©Copyright 1981 by Kelly Strong … kellystrong@aol.com. Used with Permission

Article – © 2010 by Ira Schwartz. All rights reserved. Used with Permission

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12 Responses to The Cost of Freedom by Ira Schwartz

  1. Deborah A. Cook on May 27, 2010 at 4:04 pm

    As a proud mother of one of those soldiers, who thankfully is back in the states, I applaud your article here. No one need remind me what this upcoming holiday is for. I sat through too many of them with my son on foreign soil fervently praying for a good outcome. While his safe return certainly gladdens my heart I am ever so mindful of those loved ones who didn't see the same happy ending I did. I salute them as well as those brave men and women who will never come home. I honor the tears of those they left behind. These are the citizens whom I shall be forever grateful to. I will never let a memorial day go by in my lifetime without holding them all in my heart and prayers.
    Thank you Ira, for putting my thoughts into words which I could never have done as eloquently.

  2. Anonymous on May 28, 2010 at 9:26 pm

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  3. Bilgi Paylaşım on May 28, 2010 at 11:04 pm
  4. MeneLaoS on May 28, 2010 at 11:15 pm
  5. Craig Covello on May 30, 2010 at 6:04 am

    Thanks, Ira. That was both informative and inspiring. Indeed, Freedom is not free. I wish every American could read your article. I hope you enjoy your Memorial Day Weekend.

  6. Anonymous on May 30, 2010 at 6:35 pm

    The generations we honored this Memorial Day have dealt with crises, they got through recessions and depressions, participate in the cruel and inhuman conflict in the front lines of WWI, if any are left, and WWII. They have persevered the reign of dictators, despots, and tyrants. They have endured and raised above corrupt political dynasties, they have shared the sacrifice and pain. And they still soldiered on. They are a replay of America past and the promise of America future. These generations were and are defined not by what they lost in property, riches, possessions or lives but what they guarded, protected and held dear, that being “principle.”

    Memorial Day honors all who died in any war or military action in defense of our great nation. These conflicts include, the American Revolution 1775, the War of 1812, and
    the Mexican-American War. The American Civil War, (1861) the deadliest in American national history, caused 620,000 soldier deaths and an undetermined number of civilian casualties, ended slavery in the United States, restored the Union by settling the issues of nullification and secession and strengthened the role of the Federal government. America was still in turmoil.

    The Spanish-American War reports total troops exceeded 300k with battle and non theater deaths in the range of 2.5k. In 1918 four million were drafted for the conflict called World War I. The estimated dead United States soldiers are reported close to one million. In 1938 Hitler was overrunning Europe and we in America were paralyzed with appeasement and an unwillingness to confront evil. And then Pearl harbor. Blackouts, the search lights and the radio commentary about German submarines off of the west coast around 1943 are real memories.

    “World War II was a world wide military conflict; the amalgamation of two separate conflicts, one beginning in Asia in 1937 as the Second Sino-Japanese War, and the other beginning in Europe in 1939 with the invasion of Poland. This global conflict split a majority of the world’s nations into two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis. The estimate of dead from this conflict range from 50 to 70 million of which 2 million are estimated to be Americans.”

    And then there was the Korean War, the Vietnam War, Desert Storm, Operation Enduring Freedom 2001, Iraqi Freedom 2003

    It is hard to listen to the daily roll calls of those killed in Iraq and Afghanistan without a sincere and heartfelt expression of love, honor, appreciation and thanks for those laying down their lives for me and mine. Some of us are senior citizens but if we were physically fit and acceptable we would be out there on the front lines with these true heroes of our time and culture. Legend has it that Lieutenant General Lewis Burwell “Chesty” Puller USMC tried to reenlist at the age of 70. Every branch of service has their form of Semper fidelis, “always faithful.” These, who we honor, died with a sacred and earned expectation that what they left to us would be protected, cherished and honored.

    Those who died in the above conflicts insured that we could commemorate Memorial Day 2010. They did their job magnificently. Those who we honor on Memorial Day made that choice, made the right choice and paid the ultimate price. We have only the obligation to deserve their sacrifice.

    When one feels patriotic, the meaning of Memorial Day is immensely emotional. There is ample room in our culture for dissent, opposing views and even the prophets of demagoguery, impassioned appeals to prejudice, and here I mean judgment without all the facts. This is all possible because of those we honor on Memorial Day. How unselfish of them. So very often we do not deserve these champions of our republic but the human spirit delivers them anyway.

    Those who we honor on Memorial Day made the choice to defend and protect, made the right choice and paid the ultimate price. We have only the obligation to deserve their sacrifice.

  7. Anonymous on May 30, 2010 at 6:38 pm

    Thank you for your kindness.

    And now I am going to remind us all of how we dishonor, disrespect and show utter ignorance, intellectual contempt, about and for the sacred sacrifice and pain these heros have endured for moral principles that if protected would insure we might have a better life. There are millions of Americans who have died in defense of our inalienable rights. Armageddon has visited the world, history will attest to this, over and over again as the dead in battle has mounted to over 100 million and counting, much like our debt clock. And we wrestle with the moral implications of the survival of the fittest, the moral fittest, we wax poetic about the inhumanity of unmanned drones, the “feel good” intellectual machinations of those who might have believed eugenics was acceptable, the false and ignorant superiority of “too many atomic bombs” when deep down we may just be harboring that devil of divisiveness called cowardliness. We, yes we, are not willing to pay that same price our heroes did, those we honor on Memorial Day, that ultimate price. We cannot hide forever behind a façade of intellectual juxtaposition and cowardliness. When we are also willing to die for these inalienable rights, we will win. There isn’t a bomb big enough to come anywhere close to the moral equivalency of just one “patriotic” life. And when you doubt that, research the depravity where life is not valued or depots have co-opted freedom. We have yet to learn, to understand, to appreciate and embrace the true, the deep philosophical meaning of that famous utterance from just one of the infinite supply of true America heroes, that phase “I regret I have but one life to give for my country.” It, that mantra, has just become one of the “bullets” for discussion. And we argue, quibble and even wax poetic about too many atomic bombs. Well, of course it is important if we are an advocate of appeasement, willing to live in slavery, bow to the world in defiance of our own principles, and unwilling to pay the ultimate price so future generations can live, not just in peace, but in a reasonable semblance of the aura, in the shadow of that great shining star on the hill, our culture of inalienable rights. Where in heaven’s name did we detour from “Give me liberty or give me death?”

    There is boiling cauldron of inhumanity in Russia, China, North Korea, Israel, International Terrorism, Al Qaeda, and then there is the worst of all dangers, our ignorance to the lessons of history. And the divisiveness, the uncivil discourse erupting in America over purposeful confusion, the issue of economic and cultural divisiveness, the chaos in Greece, which is making its way to America, is not fought by our leaders, it is encourage, either through ignorance or intent, both are sins of humanity.

    While we honor the heroes of our past prepare for the difficult task of carrying that memory forward for history is now being written and rewritten. We do not honor their memory by giving away that for which they died.

  8. Anonymous on June 2, 2010 at 7:48 am

    If you are an atheist, please skip this message. If you think you are a Republican or a Conservative, if you think you have a solid grip on Judeo Christian philosophy, if you criticizes, condemn or are critical of “Give me Liberty or Give me death”, as a recent commentary recalled, if you jumped to conclusions, join the mass analysis about the Israeli recent high seas conflict, maybe this will give us all an opportunity to reopen the window in our soul. If you think we are headed in the right direction as a nation. If you think Memorial Day carried the emotional strength it deserved then skip this.

    http://www.greatdanepro.com/Pray%20For%20America/index.htm

    What say you?

  9. Donte Gough on February 10, 2011 at 1:41 pm

    Great article. Waiting for more.

  10. [...] President Lyndon Johnson formally declared Waterloo, New York as the official birthday place of Memorial Day. Perhaps this location was chosen because on May 5, 1866, the local veterans who had fought in the [...]

  11. Happy Memorial Day | Hooray For CHANGE! on May 30, 2011 at 11:53 am

    [...] President Lyndon Johnson formally declared Waterloo, New York as the official birthday place of Memorial Day. Perhaps this location was chosen because on May 5, 1866, the local veterans who had fought in the [...]

  12. A Hollywood Republican » In Harm’s Way on November 11, 2011 at 10:51 am

    [...] and thank them for the sacrifices they have made and will make to keep America safe.In my article, “The Cost of Freedom” I included a poem by LTCD. Kelly Strong USCG(Ret.)  I would like to include it here again.FREEDOM [...]

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