As Americans, we know all too well that the price of freedom is never free.
It is, in fact, a price that is great, staggering and lasting. It is a price that is never paid in full. And it is a price that is continually paid by our nation's brave men and women who serve in America's armed forces and put themselves in harm's way for our great nation and the simple belief that freedom can and must always prevail.
Yet, the greatest price paid for our freedom is the toll of life itself. This is the precious price paid by America's soldiers who have made the supreme sacrifice for our freedom on battlefields all over the world. Throughout the history of our nation, from the American Revolutionary War through today's ongoing war against terrorism (and every war and conflict in between), America has remained eternally grateful to those soldiers who have paid that price -- and were never to return home.
For more than 130 years, Americans have gathered annually on Memorial Day to recognize and remember these fallen heroes and their immense contributions to our nation in the name of freedom. At that first Memorial Day gathering, on May 30, 1868, 5,000 people assembled at Arlington National Cemetery to help decorate the graves of the thousands of Confederate and Union soldiers buried there.
This Memorial Day, as in previous years, there will again be a ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery -- and small towns and big cities alike will hold various events to mark the occasion in their own way. But for many of us, tragically, the true meaning of Memorial Day is slowly being lost.
In the hustle and bustle of today's world, Memorial Day has unfortunately come to signify something other than what it was intended to for many of us. That's not to say a 3-day weekend, checking out a retail sale or going on vacation over the break are bad things at all. It's just that the holiday carries more meaning than any of those things. Much, much more meaning.
Nevertheless, there remain constant reminders all around us of the supreme sacrifices that have been paid by family members, friends, and people we will never know -- all heroes who have given their very lives for our freedom. Those reminders are particularly vivid given our nation's and the free world's ongoing war against terrorism.
Following his supreme sacrifice on a battlefield in Afghanistan last month while defending freedom, most of us have come to know the story of former professional football player Pat Tillman. It's been hard to pick up a paper or turn on the television without learning something new and inspiring about this very special young man's life journey. And with good reason; Tillman overachieved, set an example for others and sacrificed everything he had for the country he loved.
But the importance of the Tillman story is not contained in the chronological list of the events that shaped his life. It's in the message embodied in Tillman's supreme sacrifice, and the countless others just like him who have laid their lives down for our freedom -- and how they shape our lives.
In the memorials and eulogies that ensued following Pat Tillman's passing, much was said about the measure of this special man. Steve White, a Navy Seal who served with Pat on a previous mission, was one of those who offered his thoughts on his life.
According to the news accounts, he described Tillman as "one of the most remarkable human beings I've ever met. When a little voice in your head tells you not to do the easiest thing, but to do the right thing -- that's Pat..." Then White went on to say, "on Pat's tombstone, it will read 1976-2004. That one little 'dash' in there represents a life. How do we spend our dash?"
For each and every brave American warrior who gave his or her life for this country, that "dash" was spent ensuring that the light of liberty would burn brightly, and never extinguish.
This Memorial Day, a grateful nation honors these heroes who made the supreme sacrifice for our freedom and didn't make it home.
(State Rep. Charlie Norwood is an Evans resident and a Vietnam war veteran.)
The Columbia County News-Times ©2013. All Rights Reserved.