"O Beautiful for heroes proved
In liberating strife,
Who more than self
Their country loved,
And mercy more than life"
-- Katherine Lee Bates, America, the Beautiful
America, the Beautiful is arguably the most popular patriotic song in the nation today. We love to sing it for its images, images of spacious skies, of amber waves of grain, of purple mountain majesties and the fruited plain, images of majesty, of prosperity and of peace. Yet too often we neglect the second verse, the verse celebrating those who secured the images of the peace and prosperity of a magnificent nation.
Peace, prosperity, and liberty exist not as happenstance but as the results of willful actions by men and women to secure them.
It took action by embattled farmers at Concord, by a ragged army at Valley Forge, Saratoga, Yorktown, and myriad other now forgotten places to secure our independence. When the conflict ended, the soldiers returned home and built a nation.
It took action by soldiers, sailors, and frontiersmen to secure our western territories and right to trade freely on the high seas in 1812. When the conflict ended, they returned home to build and expand a country.
Actions by men wearing gray and blue nearly tore the nation apart in the 1860s. When it was over, the nation had confirmed that all men are indeed created with equal rights to life, liberty, and property. The nation that emerged was stronger than the one that entered the conflict. Regardless of the uniform they wore, those who fought returned home to build, expand, and strengthen the country.
Then came the war to end all wars, and the war that followed that, and police actions that looked, felt, and smelled like war but lacked the benefit of a formal declaration. Again, those who fought returned home and got on with whatever life was left to them. And again the nation was strengthened.
Today, we find ourself engaged in a series of long-term actions against an enemy who recognizes not liberty or freedom, but only the law of might. Heroes, proved in battle, are again returning home to build not the nation they left, but the nation it will become.
We call these men "veterans". At one point each of them proved to love their country more than themselves by signing everything up to and including their very lives over to their country. Some thought they signed up for only a short period of time. Most now realize that their enlistment and its consequences never really end. For the rest of their days, they will remain heroes proved. They will remain veterans.
I am proud to be numbered among them.
A verse popular with the US Special Forces states "You have never lived until you have almost died.
To those who have fought for it, freedom has a flavor the protected will never know."
What is the flavor of your freedom?
If you live in liberty, thank a veteran.