The year 1776 was both a victorious one and a sad one in what would become officially the United States of America. War plagued the founders and their families, but out of ashes came a free country unseen in the course of human history. Being Christians or deists, these great men could only believe that this new found freedom came from a Creator, and also that the war behind them would lead to a better life upon these new shores. Since then, America has engaged in wars that included fighting British imperialism (1812), the Ottoman Empire (1851), the Spanish-American War (1898), World War I (1917), World War II (1941), the Korean War (1950), the Vietnam War (1960s), the Cold War (1950s-1980s), the Gulf War (1991), the War in Afghanistan (2001) and the Iraq War (2003).
In between those years America has seen its sons and daughters fall to the hands of dictators, kings, queens, and world leaders. No matter one’s philosophy on war, we all must learn to appreciate what those men and women have done to preserve our American rights and freedoms.
I have never fought in a war. I have never been in the heat of battle. In 2001, when the towers fell, I was a sophomore at college ready to transfer to a university. I didn’t make that sacrifice as many of my high school classmates and wrestling teammates did, and I admire them greatly. Two of my high school friends, Christopher Gibson and Michael DiRaimondo, fell in 2004, and attending those funerals was beyond any surreal experience I have ever had. Wrestling teammates of mine, Kevin Francis and Albert Carnahan, joined the Marines; and student-athletes I coached, like Taylor Green and Aaron VanDriesche, are currently serving as soldiers or as students ready to join.
These men are my friends, and they are living monuments to those who left us too early. Their very existence reminds us that there are those we must protect ourselves against.
Our people have not always been kind to those who risk their lives for this country. Many Vietnam vets have been treated like criminals by those who did not fight. Our newspapers and talking head news shows have downgraded our current troops’ missions, causing much frustration among those whom I talk to. And ironically, as the old cliché goes, they fight so that others can speak ill of the wars we wage. Do not be mistaken — wars might be declared by nations, but they are fought by men. It is human hands that hold guns and knives, it is the human mind that crafts the machinery and battle plans; it is the 20-year old who gives up Friday night parties and family gatherings to wear hundred-pound gear and spend days in deserted deserts; and it is these young men and women who may one day find their bodies dug into the dirt because they wanted to make sure I could still write this column.
The sacrifice of a few has made the majority prosper. If we do not support them, who will? Because I can promise if any of our enemies were to truly succeed then they would be much crueler to us than we would be to them. The American soldier, no matter where he or she is stationed, is fighting for our way of life, and not since the late 1980s has our way of life been so threatened. America is not invincible. History is against us. No one country can be the center point forever. Ask Nebuchadnezzar, Caesar, Napoleon and the British Empire. But our time to go cannot be now. There is too much at stake and too much progress made in this world to backslide into a dark age that will spit on human rights, religious freedoms and civil liberties. Recently, we have seen that our enemies are still alive and want to wreak havoc on our streets.
This Memorial Day weekend should remind us all that while many have left us due to our enemies, there are still many ready to defend their honor and this country’s promise written more than 200 years ago. So remember them, too, this year — our living memorial monument.