Enjoying the simple pleasures life has to offer — friends, food, sunny days, beautiful sunsets, children and pets, the list is almost endless — is something we don’t give a lot of thought to. We enjoy both the simple things and the more complex freedoms but they come with a price, a price for most of us paid by others.
A couple of years ago, a local 21-year-old U.S. Marine left behind a wife and two young sons and answered his country’s call. Serving honorably in Iraq, he was killed in combat. Community reaction was strong and sincere: Don Cline is a hero in our eyes.
The shocking thing to contemplate is there have been literally hundreds of thousands of Don Clines killed in action, young men who undoubtedly very much would love to have just a tiny moment to once again experience those simple pleasures. Don Cline will never again enjoy a day at the lake, a barbecue, watching his boys play Little League or making love to his young wife. No, the smaller things we take for granted are the real highlights so many young men never get to enjoy, and their willingness to serve is why we do. The fruits of liberty grow in the soil made rich by the blood of others.
Wars, be they titans like WWII or smaller ones like Iraq, are always fought by a younger generation, in too many cases young men who are for all practical purposes not politically motivated. They go to war for a myriad of reasons but in their souls is a love for their native land, America, and all it stands for. Even in this day of so much cynicism, deep inside most young soldiers is a heartfelt and sincere love of country and a desire to give back something for all it has given them.
Yet wars and their attendant consequences are so horrible that those involved do everything possible to block it from their memory; to forget the pain, loneliness and suffering and the too often seemingly meaningless loss of life. War is a huge blunt instrument, crushing so much and so many, that those involved who survive the trauma seek desperately to suppress all the memories of it.
This, of course, is completely understandable and completely human, but it too often leaves the up and coming generations naïve about the real life costs earlier generations paid. Freedom and the economic and social ways of life we enjoy in this country seem to have been given to us like manna from heaven — simply gather it up and enjoy.
While I am focusing on the soldiers, I am not unaware of the total human tragedy involved. The dead soldier is only a portion of the loss, leaving behind grieving parents, young widows, fatherless children, shattered dreams, unfulfilled ambitions, heartache and deep, long-term emotional suffering that words are inadequate to describe; losses in most cases worse than the death itself. These are less tangible, but every bit as real as a dead young man.
Considering the enormous price so many have paid, it’s a bit sad to contemplate we only have a single memorial day and that most of us give precious little time to actually think about what it represents. Our lack of gratitude seems disgraceful, especially considering all we enjoy because of their sacrifices.
I suspect the lack of gratitude is not as bad as it first appears. It really is a lack of knowledge, a glaring oversight in the education of our children. For example, I had my teenage daughter read the book “Flags of Our Fathers,” about the battle for Iwo Jima. It profoundly affected her and for the first time in her life she emotionally caught a glimpse of what the liberty she takes for granted had cost others. She had never been educated in the human costs of war.
So how do you correct this? One idea would be to erect some meaningful memorial. Here is what I envision: At Sparks High School, for example, put up a marble stand with an American flag over it. Inscribed on it would be the names of former Sparks High students who were killed in war, two pictures of them (one from their yearbook and one in uniform), their birth date and the date they were killed.
I am deeply moved when I think about the price of liberty, but I really enjoy history and have some of the education that stimulates gratitude. Even with education we too often speak in lump sums — so many thousands killed — rather than contemplate the costs to real-life individuals. A memorial with pictures of young locals like themselves cannot help but develop an appreciation of what others have done. If nothing else, perhaps on the way to the beach on Memorial Day, those pictures and dates would flash through their minds.
For us today, let us at the very least offer up a silent prayer of gratitude in memory of all those young men, and their families left behind, and try to imagine what they paid for our freedom. Fly your flag, count your blessings and contemplate the things that really matter. If Don Cline could have one extra day, what would he do?
Ira Hansen is a lifelong resident of Sparks, owner of Ira Hansen and Sons Plumbing and his radio talk show can be heard Monday through Friday from 3 to 6 p.m. on 99.1 FM.