By Dr. Scott Elliott
The Meridian Star
It’s often been said that freedom isn’t free. I often wonder, though, if some of our young people genuinely grasp the price that has been paid for their liberties.
As a case in point, I attended a basketball game recently, prior to the start of which the “Star-Spangled Banner” was played. The public address announcer said to the crowd, “Please rise for the playing of the National Anthem.” I’ve been to still other such events when the announcer also reminded the audience to take off their hats.
What a sad commentary that any American citizen must be goaded to stand and remove his hat to honor the flag. Yet, based on my observations, such announcements have become necessary and, even more glaring, ineffective – as was the case the other night at the aforementioned game.
As I stood and put my hand over my heart, I could not help but notice young people failing to remove their baseball caps, hoodies, and knit hats. I also observed some talking on their cells phones, and others still having conversations with the person standing next to them.
So, in the hope that some young person might take note of this writing, permit me to reflect on the price of American freedoms. I guess it all started back on March 5, 1770, when an African-American named Crispus Attucks was shot to death by the British at the outset of the American Revolution, in which approximately 17,000 others laid down their lives in the fight for independence. In more contemporary times, according to the Internet’s Wikipedia, some 116,516 Americans were killed in World War I. The total for WWII stood at 405,399 or 416 deaths per day during the span of the conflict. The Korean War exacted a toll of 36,516 dead Americans followed by 58,209 casualties in Vietnam. At the time of the publication of the referenced Internet source, some 6,280 Americans had died in the War on Terror.
Of course, those numbers are restricted to actual deaths. They do not take into consideration the Americans wounded in those same conflicts – men and women who came back home minus an appendage or having endured some other disability. In WWII alone, 670,846 Americans suffered wounds. Yet another 30,314 were simply reported as “missing.”
Today, we can pretty much gather where we please. We are permitted to, generally speaking, express our opinions in an unbridled fashion, so along as we don’t yell “fire” in a crowded theater. We can vote. Newspaper, TV, and radio reporters expound on just about every aspect of society. We are allowed to bear arms, including semi-automatic weapons, although there is a fairly heated and current debate on that issue. And the list goes on to include, of course, the benefits of our system of justice.
Across the American landscape, most of us have never traveled abroad and witnessed first-hand the limits on personal freedoms that are evident in many other nations. Therefore, we have no real frame of reference beyond that which we see reported in the media. Maybe that’s one reason we so readily take our freedoms for granted.
But we should never, ever take for granted our fellow citizens, past and present, who have either paid the ultimate price for our freedoms or stand ready to do so, should the need arise. When we fail to respect the American flag through the simple act of standing still for just a few moments during the playing of the National Anthem, then, in my view, we are symbolically spitting on the graves of those whose precious blood was sacrificed for us.
Personally, I didn’t serve in the military. I’m just another buck passer who frolics each day in the sunlight while somebody else stands a post on my behalf. And I don’t even know his/her name.
As I write this piece, my thoughts are of my own father – a man who left his family as a teenager to join the fight in WWII. My grandmother sent all three of her cherished sons off to that bloody war, and, miraculously, all returned. Nowadays, we’re losing about 1,000 WWII vets a week. They are in their 80s and 90s, and soon they will all be gone. My dad never talks much about his experience in the second great war. In fact, it’s kind of like pulling teeth to get him to discuss it.
Dad has never once thought of himself as a hero nor asked to be thanked. But he is a hero to me, and when I go to a basketball game and see young people milling about, laughing, and texting and talking on cell phones during the playing of the National Anthem, I resent it – big-time. No, Dad wasn’t one of the 405,399 who died. Because he didn’t, I’m here today to pen these few lines in support of him and his brethren. That’s about all a mullet like me can do.
In America, how quickly we forget. Worse than that, some of us don’t know enough to forget.
Dr. Scott Elliott’s views are his own and do not reflect an official position of his employer, Meridian Community College.