Taking Time To Thank The Fallen

Punchbowl is personal for vets and non-vets alike. Craig Kojima / Honolulu Star-Advertiser photo

The cost of freedom is always high, but Americans have always paid it. And one path we shall never choose, [that is] the path of surrender or submission. – John Fitzgerald Kennedy

Remembering our fallen, the uniformed protectors of our nation who have given it all – is an act I hope never fades from American tradition.

For some, the last-Monday-in-May holiday known as Memorial Day is little more than an excuse to go to the beach, shop sales or just hang out. For others, well, it means circling up Punchbowl crater’s perimeter and into the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific’s hallowed ground to reflect, pray, and honor a loved one gone but not forgotten.

I never feel I pay enough homage to those who have laid it all on the line for a simple, one-word cause: freedom, my freedom. But isn’t that the point? Real freedom is to be free to do whatever moves us, to wave a flag at a Memorial Day parade, place flowers on a grave, or try on yet another pair of sale shoes at Macy’s.

Every time I see throngs of North Koreans in Pyongyang’s Kim II Sung Square in January cheering wildly at the appearance of their “divine” leader, it’s a giveaway that those people are far from free. Otherwise, they’d never be out there in the bitter cold.

It’s rare to see large numbers of Americans out in freezing weather unless a leather ball or a rock star is involved. Then again, cradled in Punchbowl crater are graves of men who served far from home in sub-freezing temperatures not for fun or games, but freedom’s cause. Their brave sacrifice was on frozen ground at the Chosin Reservoir in Korea, surrounded and heavily outnumbered by Chinese troops. Our Marines and Army soldiers fought for 17 limb-numbing days, holding off the enemy. They’re remembered as the “Chosin Few.”

That was December 1950. But still today in 2012 we see our troops braving cold weather, snipers and IEDs for the same reason – freedom – both for the local people in foreign nations and for their own back home.

Given the American sacrifices in foreign wars fought to help oust the likes of Hitler, and a slew of Communist and despotic butchers responsible for the deaths of hundreds of millions, I cringe at a stylish criticism of the U.S. – from both within and without – that we are a “colonialist” power, “occupying” land and “empire building” across the world.

In January 2003, Secretary of State Colin Powell was questioned about U.S. military intervention during a presentation to the World Economic Forum in Switzerland. The former Army general and Joint Chiefs chairman, in part of his answer, reminds us of a truth about America’s involvement in foreign conflicts: “We have gone forth from our shores repeatedly over the last hundred years … and we have asked for nothing except enough ground to bury them [our dead] in, and otherwise we have returned home … to live our own lives in peace.”

Much American blood has spilled across an often-ungrateful world. Some Americans are buried where they fought and died. There still lies my Uncle “Button”

Roberts in French soil at Lorraine Cemetery in northern France surrounded by hundreds of other Americans resting in a peace they bravely won. Ironically, their graves are just across the border from Germany, a country prosperous and free, and certainly not part of an American “empire.”

Politicians commit our finest to war and often fail them by, among other expedient foolishness, not letting them finish – not letting them win. But our troops have not failed. They’ve remained at the ready to fight and die so that even those who forget to remember them and even hate them remain free to do so.

Those who desire to give up freedom in order to gain security will not have, nor do they deserve, either one. -Benjamin Franklin