“Freedom — it ain’t free,” said a drill sergeant at Fort Benning, Georgia. After that, he explained that it was almost a statistical certainty that each of us would deploy to a combat zone within a year.
He was right. Nearly all of us who got our blue cords in February of 2011 deployed. Some came back. Some didn’t, and some came back with injuries that would hinder them for the rest of their lives. However, all of us who came back were changed men.
Some wounds were apparent. Others were not, but we are all a little different than the day we raised our right hand to take an oath.
Looking back, the drill sergeant was right. It ain’t free.
In fact, the cost is great. Only a veteran or a person close to one can attest to the real cost of war and the real price of freedom.
Lately I’ve dedicated my Sunday profiles to telling the stories of World War II veterans. It makes writing an article an enjoyable experience for me. I love hearing the stories of our “greatest generation,” but I’m always surprised by how similar all our stories of sacrifice are.
After interviewing Pete Carroll, I realized when he hit foreign soil in Europe he probably felt a lot like I did when I touched down in Afghanistan. Simply put, it’s pretty scary and leaves everlasting and surreal memories. Most of us — while we may forget what we ate for dinner the night prior — remember every second of every day we spent abroad.
The way Zeno Easter described boarding a ship to take the trip across the Pacific is strikingly similar to my memories of getting on a plane headed to a land far different than the one I had enjoyed for 25 years.
I remember walking up to my parents door on Feb. 28, 2014 with my Army-issued green duffel bag in hand. I doubt that Sergeant Lorain Lambert looked much different when he walked up to the door in Flat Rock after serving in WWII than Sergeant Andy Winemiller looked when he walked up to the door in Lorain, Ohio.
VFW commander and Vietnam veteran David Raborn always says, “I got a lot of respect for you guys. You went to that desert and never had any idea what was behind the doors.” I have a lot of respect for Raborn and his contemporaries. They never knew what awaited in the jungle.
Life in any of these places is unimaginable for somebody who hasn’t been there and done that.
We are part of the same fraternity, and I’m no prouder of anything of which I’ve been a part than I am of being a veteran.
Veterans know first-hand that freedom isn’t free, and our sacrifices started when we raised our right hand. From day one, veterans sacrifice.
At basic training we sacrifice our own freedom. When we get to our units we train for weeks on end for a deployment that may or may not come.
For those of us who get the call to the field of battle, we also know the ultimate sacrifice. Those memories are ingrained in combat veterans forever.
At a memorial service in Afghanistan, Lt. Col. Shawn Daniel said of a fallen comrade, “When we signed on the dotted line, we all effectually said we were willing to take his place.”
Shawn’s remarks couldn’t be more true.
You see, it takes a special person to step up to the plate and serve his or her country. Today about one half of one percent of Americans serve in the armed forces. That’s a huge decrease from the 12 percent who served during WWII. However, even that number is a small minority.
Veterans — myself included — aren’t always model citizens. We have our faults. However, each of us had something that many Americans didn’t — the intestinal fortitude to sign on Shawn’s dotted line.
I’m not big on thank you’s. I’m proud of what I did with or without it. However, some veterans like to know people appreciate the many sacrifices they made in the name of preserving the American way of life.
“People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf,” wrote George Orwell.
It is because of these men and women that the American way of life has been and will continue to be defended and preserved.
For that, we all owe a thanks to a veteran.
After all, freedom ain’t free.
Andy is a staff writer for The News and can be reached at (336) 415-4698.