Herald Journal Columns
June 5, 2006, Herald Journal

Never forget what it cost

By LIZ HELLMANN
I was standing in a line the other day, and a man ordered me to take off my ring.

Then he ordered the rest of the people in line to do the same. Some people couldn’t take their rings off, because their hand were swollen.

Screams could be heard as the man began to cut off their fingers and take the rings for the gold.

You are probably wondering why we didn’t fight back, run, or call the police.

The truth is, this didn’t happen to me.

But it is an event, even though I was not there, that I will never forget.

It was a story I heard from a man who was there when it happened to him and his comrades during World War II.

It was at a Memorial Day celebration that this soldier told his tale, and it struck me how surreal the reality of war is to those who have never encountered it firsthand.

That man, and thousands just like him, have endured the worst of circumstances.

The line he stood in that day, after surrendering to the enemy, was horrific in and of itself, but it was only the beginning.

There was no way to fight back, nowhere to run, and no police to call.

Having been stripped of all personal possessions, including their wedding rings, and even appendages, the men were marched away to become prisoners of war.

It is funny to think how one such incident here in our country would create a huge stir – but many such incidents, under the heading of war, meld together and can lose all meaning to those who were not involved.

Imagine if someone marched into the local grocery store, demanded at gunpoint all the customers’ personal possessions, and if they didn’t, or couldn’t, comply, horrible consequences would follow.

Then, the gunman would whisk the patrons away to a horrible torture center for the next several months, before finally releasing the ones that did survive.

That incident would have a recognizable name, just like 9/11. Children would be taught about it each year in school. Its anniversary would be remembered and honored.

But, what of all the unimaginable, individual tragedies of all the wars, past and present, that have exacted their miserable toll on our nation’s sons and daughters?

It is, of course, impossible to recall, or even know all of the horrible things that happened during those wars.

But it seems tragic to let ourselves become calloused to these things, which individually make up the horror of war. More importantly, whole wars do not happen to individual people, they happen to nations.

As a nation, we should all remember the battles, prison camps, shrapnel wounds, amputations, torture, grenades, and other realities of war that do happen to individual people.

People, just like you and me, who vowed to serve their country to protect people, just like you and me.

We should always remember wars, but more importantly, never forget what wars are made up of, because that is where we can find the personal blood, sweat, and sacrifice that bought our freedom.

We should be thankful for such sacrifices every day, but Memorial Day, Veterans Day, and other such holidays offer a specific time to remember those who gave their all – whether they survived to tell about it or not.

It is increasingly easy to gloss over such remembrance opportunities.

Many people do not attend Memorial Day services. Some do not even give a thought to why we celebrate the day, but get caught up in summer festivities.

I don’t think I attended a Memorial Day service until I was required to, as part of my work.

I have had relatives who have served our country, just as, I’m sure, almost everyone has.

But it didn’t seem all that important to go to a cemetery or park in the middle of a three-day weekend to hear a bunch of names read off a list.

I always had respect for those who have served, but didn’t really think there was a point to going to a service.

However, taking that opportunity to hear men and women whose jobs have been to fight for our freedom, and hearing their tale of survival, is important.

It offers a more clear depiction of the general idea of “freedom isn’t free.”

To me, patriotism isn’t about a warm, fuzzy feeling that we share towards soldiers of the past and present.

If that is what you felt when observing Memorial Day, in my opinion, it is not enough.

To truly think of the stories of horror, to think of the sacrifices men and women of all ages have given, it should make your stomach turn.

Young heroes, barely 18, have surrendered their lives, and their futures, towards the goal of giving us ours.

In the words of Thomas Warren, who spoke at the Montrose Memorial Day service last week, “They will never grow old with the one they love, they will never have the chance to walk their daughter down the aisle.”

Then, there are the older soldiers. The 40-year-old mother or father, who left a spouse widowed, and children motherless or fatherless, because they wanted to ensure our freedom and safety.

When I hear what these men and women have endured to provide me with freedom, I feel sick that they, and their families, had to go through that.

It should make us uncomfortable, and at the same time unbelievably grateful, that these honorable men and women thought so highly of our freedom.

We are forever indebted to those who endured the unspeakable horrors of war.

It is now our job to remember what our freedom really cost, and to take to heart opportunities to do just that.


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