Some places conjure up more than pleasant vacation memories. They trigger emotions, prompting a momentary pause to reflect, to reminisce, to remember. These places have names, names that are more than a geographic spot on a map, names that echo across time. Names that might or should cause us to pause, to bow your head, to stand, and to solemnly place your hand upon your heart. For these names remind us that freedom isn’t free.
Bunker Hill and Valley Forge
Normandy and Iwo Jima
Freedom may be a word whose meaning we currently debate, but let us never forget that Americans died to defend our freedom to debate it. And Memorial Day is a day set aside to allow us a patriotic pause, to remind us that every day ought to be a Memorial Day. For me, Memorial Day reflections tend to gravitate to two men, one a friend of my youth, the other a young stranger.
In 1961 ten-year-old David Elrod played third base on the Longdale Little League Yankees. I played shortstop. Eight years later his name earned a spot on a black granite wall known as the Vietnam War Memorial. He died there in the summer of 1969.
In 2003, patriotic sacrifice took on a new meaning for me. A young man from my hometown became the first Rockdale County resident to die in the Iraq War, known then as Operation Iraqi Freedom. I never knew Army Pfc. Diego Fernando Rincon. He had graduated from the same high school my daughters attended. A native of Columbia, he had immigrated with his family to America. Though not yet a citizen, Diego volunteered — let that sink in for a moment — to fight for his adopted country only to be killed at the age of 19 by a suicide car-bombing in Iraq.
It humbles me even today to think that this young Hispanic immigrant knew more about defending freedom than most freedom-loving Americans.
Gratitude should be the hallmark emotion for those of us who live in the Land of the Free and Home of the Brave. For freedom comes with a price.
Let us never forget. Some names are worth remembering.
“No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” John 15:13