COLUMN: U.S. veterans know that freedom is not free

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By John Lapp

Memorial Day. Just another three-day weekend, right? Well, many of our younger generation may not know the actual day is May 30, although this year we celebrate it on May 27, blending it into another traditional long weekend.
Since I am an elderly member of our society, I always knew what it was to honor our country’s veterans — I am one of them having served in the United States Marine Corps from 1957 to 1963.
Today’s column is about the honor and pride I have for our military, both active and retired.
The U.S. Congress voted many years ago that it was wrong for any family to have numerous male members all serving at the same time, which had regularly happened in our nation’s history. The reason for this restriction was to make sure that the future of that family name could not be forever eliminated via war.
However, my maternal grandparents had all four of their male sons serving at the same time during WWII, all of them in the U.S. Army, with the youngest son serving as a paratrooper.
I remember in the early ‘40s sitting at our dinner table near my teenage Uncle Alex, on furlough having been wounded and sitting next to Edith, his fiance. I can still remember sitting there looking at him and his uniforn staring in awe at this medal, the “purple heart” worn due to his injury, although not a life-threatening wound. I had never been that close to “an Army man,” as they were referred to at that time. I did not know that all three of his brothers were also in the Army, but I did know that when I visited the home of my grandparents, there were four stars on the window at the entrance into their home, each star representing the number of family members currently serving in the Armed Forces. I found out later that the other uncles served in combat zones.
After the war ended, my parents were given a German rifle retrieved from a member of the German Army. It had a long frightening-looking bayonet attached to the end of the rifle. This attachment was obviously to be used in the case of hand-to-hand combat, and probably if all the bullets had been used.
Well, today, the weapons of war are much different than they were back then. Now the wars are being waged with more dangerous devices, some of them even remotely being used far away from the actual field of battle, namely “drones,” which are aircraft operated  without an actual live crew, conducted by electronic means, often many miles from where they are designed to strike.
Technology of today leads me to believe that much of what was read in comic books that seemed like sheer fantasy is now virtual reality; although it still seems like fantasy to me.
I mean, how a skilled technician on the ground over “here” knows how to conduct a weapon of war over “there” and expects to produce a strike on the enemy with precision accuracy is beyond my old, feeble mind to comprehend, but so are a lot of things in modern technology.
(A confession is necessary here: I still struggle with simple things, like the gadgets, which I recently wrote in one of my columns in April. So go ahead, mock me, I don’t care now and never will. Enjoy yourself, those of you who still enjoy the world of gadgetology.)
Well, so much for the changes in the world of war that have taken place over many years of military might and power. It has been stated across the globe that America’s fighting force has always been one to be dreaded by other nations, and always to be welcomed when the need arose to defend our allies against any tyrannical enemy whose design was to eliminate any nation.
We have always been ready and available, much to our own national heritage to be a loyal friend to others who enlist our help, and historically we have been honored for our commitment in that regard.
That, my friends, is why I want to elaborate and explain to you why Memorial Day means so much to both me and my wife, Lynn. Recently, I was walking back to my car at a store in Louisville, and I noticed a man of small stature, sort of leaning a little forward while he was slowly walking toward the store, and I noticed what was printed on his ball cap: U.S. Navy Veteran, WWII. I figured that he must be in his late 80s or early 90s.
I walked up to this man, greeted him, stuck my hand out and shook his weathered hand, stating to him, “You served at a time when I was in my early childhood.” (I am presently 77 years old.) He noticed on my ball cap the printing, which was U.S. Marine Corps, Semper Fidelis, which means always faithful. Although I served in a time in our nation’s history when we were not actually engaged in a war zone, he proceeded to tell me “thanks for serving.”
It was a time of embarrassment for me, for here I had met a man who survived in WWII, helping keep me safe, trying to make me feel that he was honoring me for my service to our country. We talked for a short while, I gave him a big hug and we proceeded to go our separate ways. He, my friends, is a hero, big time, as are many others who have willingly, and more often than not, with great courage in spite of danger, put their lives on line in order to provide us another day that we can call Memorial Day. I have known many others who deserve our thanks, and praise for being willing to serve our great country. You may also know others who served or are serving.
Even if you don’t actually know any from either your immediate or extended family, don’t bypass the opportunity to walk up to a person, male or female in uniform, and personally thank them for serving. They may not have had this ever happen, and that could make them feel that we care.
It happened to me last week, when I was in the local Country Mart store and was wearing one of my newer ball caps that read U.S. Marine Veteran, and a woman about the age of one of my older grandchildren, politely walked up to me and stated, “Thank you for serving. My husband was in the Marines, and like you, very proud for his time in service.”
I thanked her, humorously stating that I, noticing her age, had served in “ancient history,” but she still proceeded to say “Yes, you served a different time, but you did us all a service.”
It made me feel proud all over again. Yes, I wear my ball caps a lot, not for any personal recognition, but to let others know I am proud of my country, and thankful that I had enlisted at 21 years old. Take time to greet someone and, yes, thank them.
May God bless you, and may God continue to bless, as he always has, our wonderful country, the U.S.A., on this Memorial Day.