11 November 2011

Freedom Is Not Free: Commemorating Veterans Day

They tell me
'Freedom is never free.'
I know that-
More than most realize.
Freedom cost us more
Than we should have to give.
Freedom cost us blood.
It cost us the lives
Of our fathers,
Our sons,
Our brothers.
But while freedom is never free,
It has been bought at great price,
And so is a thing of great value.
We must defend it,
From those who would take it away.
The defense of our freedoms
Will cost us-
More than we wish to pay.
But we must pay, to defend,
For if we try to make freedom free,
We forget-
True freedom is never free.

                              ~James Grengs

Numerologists may revel that  the calendar shows 11-11-11.   There is a similar significance in Armistice Day (also known as Remembrance Day), as it is traditionally celebrated  on eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, which marked the cessation of hostilities on the Western Front that ended the First World War in 1918.   Many Allied nations mark November 11th as a day to commemorate the fallen veterans who were amongst the estimated 60 million people who died  in the Great War.

The horror that Continental Europeans hold for the first major modern war is embodied in  "Le Monument aux  Morts" in Trévières, France by sculptor (and Mayor) Edmond de Laheudrie  (1921).  The sculpture is Nike, the Greek Goddess of Victory, which is also wearing the utility belt and helmet of the French version of Doughboys.   The original placement of "Le Monument aux Morts" is significant for two reasons, as  its position near the Church of St. Aignan links it to the bishop who defended Orleans from Attila the Hun in 451.  During the D-Day attacks from Allied Forces against Occupied France in World War II, a round of shrapnel struck the head of the sculpture which removed  its face below the upper lip along with most of its throat.  So all at once this statue represents both the the fleeting valor of  victory, the fragility of peace as well as the destructiveness of war.    This statue was cast in situ for placement at the D-Day Memorial in Bedford, Virginia.

President Franklin Roosevelt's Prayer on the eve of the D-Day Normandy Invasion  implores the Almighty for divine aid for our troops defending our freedom: "Lead them straight and true; give strength to their arms, stoutness to their hearts, steadfastness in their faith".

It is saddening to learn that the Obama Administration objects to the inclusion of this FDR radio prayer to being included in the World War II Memorial on the National Mall in Washington. Obama Bureau of Land Management Director Robert Abbey claims that inclusion of this prayer would "dilute" the central message of Memorial as well as violating the Commemorative Works Act. The real reason may be a politically correct attempt to erase any vestige of public religiosity which expressly alludes to Christianity.

The evolution of Armistice Day into Veterans Day was spearheaded by Alvin King, a cobbler from Emporia, Kansas in 1953 who campaigned to include all who served the nation as part of the November 11th commemoration. Within a year, Congress changed the holiday to Veterans Day. Alas, today people could claim this change was contrary to the spirit of the Commemorative Works Act.

Among the many memorials between the beltways, one of the standouts is the Korean War Memorial, which was dedicated by President George Herbert Walker Bush in 1992. The "central theme" of this Memorial is the polished marble reminder "Freedom is Not Free". The memorial recognizes the contributions and loss of troops by the 22 nations which comprised the United Nations forces during the hot war between 1950 and 1953 (N.B. there was an Armistice but never a Peace Treaty so technically there is still a state of war with North Korea). The Memorial includes a wall created by Louis Nelson that has photographs of 38 soldiers sandblasted into the granite (representing the disputed 38th parallel). The polished granite wall draws visitors into the memorial as they can not see the memorial to the troops without also seeing themselves and remembering that freedom is not free.

The hallmark of the Korean War Memorial is the squadron of 19 stainless steel soldiers (technically 14 US Army, 3 Marines, 1 Navy Corpsman and 1 Air Force Forward Air Observer) on patrol.   The sculptures by Frank Gaylord has also sparked some civil conflict.  The artist was so intent on protecting the intellectual property rights on his work that he sued the USPS for $775,000 for using the image on a first class stamp. Gaylord won all of his claims in Federal Court in 2010 save a fair use claim which is appealable to the US Supreme Court or US Court of Federal Claims.  So a tribute to the Veterans who epitomize the phrase "Freedom is Not Free"  must be a sketch of a snowy memory.

The rest of the Korean Memorial is a Pool of Remembrance, which bears the inscription
"Our nation honors her sons and daughters who answered the call to defend a country they never knew and a people they never met."

As Veterans return from the hot spots of Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Central Africa, we must  recall the wise words of President John F. Kennedy "As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them." We should honor those in the armed forces who by their very service were on the front lines of defending liberty. But we must also remember that we are all called to defend the freedoms that we cherish.  

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