On the 4th of July each year I start thinking about my dad and the millions of other service men who have fought, suffered, sacrificed, and even died to establish and protect the Republic that we enjoy. Memorial Day, Veterans Day, and the 4th of July remind us of our duty as citizens and patriots.
When I was young I didn't hear my dad say much about his experiences in World War II. It seems a lot of war veterans were like that. I knew there was a chest downstairs full of old uniforms, medals, and other memorabilia from the war. I wasn't certain of all that was in it. I wondered why my dad didn't talk much about his experiences. I thought, if I'd been involved in an adventure like that I'd probably talk about it a lot. There were things I didn't understand.
When my dad became more advanced in years (he's now over 90) he began to talk more about the war. He told us stories of volunteering, training, and preparing for the war. He talked about the missions he was involved in. He and the crew of the B-29s they flew in went into combat 25 times. Beyond that they had other harrowing experiences both in the preparation and training for war and during the aftermath when trying to help supply some prisoners of war in northern Japan.
Eventually I came to realize and/or to surmise that there were multiple reasons for my dad's silence about the war. The first reason was humility. He didn't want to be seen as bragging about his adventures and/or his contributions when he knew that many men gave their lives in that war, and that he had returned. In addition to that, it was hard to talk about the experiences because even though it might have been decades ago the experiences were still fresh in his memory and some were still painful. Those memories dredged up many emotions, some of them were very strong emotions. Perhaps he was afraid he would be misunderstood or judged by others. Perhaps he was afraid he would get choked up when talking about the things his crew and he did, the things they thought, the things they endured, the sacrifices of crew members, and the things that were done to all of them. They gave much. Some of what they gave they didn't even realize they were sacrificing until much later.
At a young age I had seen many war movies. The movies seemed to glorify war. At that time I thought that war was a great adventure filled with glory and comradeship. I knew there was death and sacrifice, but that's what made it so heroic. I didn't really know war, and I still don't. My country has participated in war since it was born, but I haven't (other than my tax dollars that support the wars we wage). Even though I haven't made the sacrifices, I can appreciate the sacrifices that were made.
I knew that my dad, like many others, had served out of a sense of duty to country and family. They went willingly to defend their nation and the Constitution and all that they held dear. What I didn't know is that my dad hated war; he was not a violent man, but was and is a man of loving nature. He hated waging war. He hated the acts of violence that war required of the crew of his plane. I didn't know that doing these things left him with deep scars, guilt, anxiety, and psychological pain for a lifetime. 70 years later these things are still with him though he doesn't complain about it. Sure, there were times during any serviceman's service that were pleasant and that evoke fond memories. I have no doubt that all veterans remember their experiences. I also have no doubt that not all memories are pleasant memories.
Like millions of others, my dad did what was required. He risked his life at least a couple of dozen times in training and in battle. He consciously laid it all on the line for freedom every time he climbed into the "belly of the dragon" that they called a B-29. He took two and a half years from the prime of his youth to prepare and to fight. That's not how he would have chosen to spend those years. He had planned on going on an LDS mission to spread the gospel of peace. Instead he flew twenty six missions for Uncle Sam. He lost friends over there. Whole crews of men that he considered friends disappeared. Two of his own crew lost their lives (and a third crew member lost his life later in the Vietnam war). Like millions of others my dad paid the price and made the sacrifices that were necessary. He hung in there with the effort until the war was over and his country released him from service.
Then without fanfare, without parades, and in my opinion, without sufficient recognition or recompense, he quietly returned to his home in Mapleton, Utah. The war didn't leave him just because he left the war. It stayed with him in memories, in beliefs, in deep and abiding emotional scars. My dad made war, but in some ways the war made him. In some ways, almost seventy years later, he still pays a price for the war. Not everyone that enjoys the freedom that America offers has paid the price that freedom requires. Some have paid a bigger price than others.
My dad might not approve of this article as he would probably feel I'm bragging about him. He doesn't like the limelight at all. He gets embarrassed if the spotlight is turned on him and he gets too much attention. He is proud of what his generation accomplished in World War II, but he does not feel he needs to brag about it. I am proud of what those Americans accomplished as well. I'm proud that they united to battle the strong forces that threatened freedom. I'm also proud of those who fought for freedom and for states rights, and for our sovereignty in every legal and justifiable war that we have fought. I am proud of those who answered their country's call in every war.
When I try to multiply the sacrifices my dad and his crew made by the millions of other service men (as well as their families who worried about them and sacrificed for them) I am humbled by the awesome responsibility their combined sacrifice places on the shoulders of all other Americans. We owe them a debt. We owe them our best efforts to befriend the Constitution and to defend it against enemies both foreign and domestic as they did. We owe them our best efforts to defend freedom as they did. And we shouldn't expect much pay or recognition for doing so. Freedom is its own reward. It's our duty to understand what it is that has established our freedom and our great nation and to defend and support those principals and institutions and traditions. More often than not the defense that is required is a defense of principal through the testimony of our words. We must each resolve to exhibit a greater measure of effort and courage in support of the sacrifices these patriots made on our behalf.
A couple of nights ago my wife and I sat on the edge of a western bluff that looks east out over the Salt Lake Valley. The entire valley sky was filled with fireworks from dozens of points across the city. The Wasatch Mountain Range was periodically back lit by fireworks going off in Park City and Heber City as well. The display of excitement and celebration lasted for hours. It filled me with happiness to see that many Americans are still excited about America, about her freedoms, about her independence and sovereignty, and about our heritage. It gave me hope in the Americans of today to know that at least some of them are still excited about our great Declaration of Independence and what it has meant for over 200 years. As I sat there with my wife, I quietly and solemnly recommitted to be a voice for freedom and to act in defense of our continued independence and the U.S. Constitution that our founders established. I hope you'll be reminded by these holidays of your duty as well and that you too will commit to uphold our Constitution and to stand for freedom.