By Jeremy Stalnecker –
Last month we had the privilege to celebrate the freedom that makes America great. Every year on July fourth we pause to remember that not so long ago a group of people stood up and said, “enough is enough!” These people came to the point where they were no longer willing to endure the tyranny of the most powerful nation in the world and were willing to die in pursuit of their own sovereignty. The story of the American Revolution is one that should make all Americans proud while reminding us just how valuable our freedom really is. I fear though that for most of us “Independence Day” has become nothing more than a day off with good BBQ and illegal fireworks. We say that we are celebrating with very little thought to the true cost of our celebration. We forget that we are free because the citizen soldiers and communities willing to support them gave up everything so that we, many generations later, can enjoy the God-given rights of, “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
I consider myself a patriot who works to honor those who have gone before me as well as those who currently stand to defend my right to live life as I choose. I have served my country and teach my children, just as my father did me, to value what they have been given. But still, I sometimes miss it. In the day to day of my life I fail to appreciate what I have and those who made it possible. It is a bit ironic, but it was while visiting another country during the week of my own countries independence celebration that I was reminded that freedom is not purchased by the professional soldier or maintained by politicians. Freedom is paid for by the men and women who are bold enough to stand up and say, “We would rather die free than live as slaves.”
I took this picture while visiting the World War Two museum in Kiev a few months ago. This really is an incredible museum but the most impressive part to me was the first display just beyond the front door. Although most of the museum is about a war that took place nearly eighty years ago, the first part is dedicated to the war going on right now in eastern Ukraine. As an American I did not fully grasp all that is going on there, but since 2014 more than 12,000 Ukrainian soldiers have been killed fighting with Russia. The whole thing is crazy and for those not aware it is worth the time to understand exactly what Russia has done and is doing. I won’t even attempt to explain it here other than to express the following. Just four years ago Russia decided they wanted to cede some of the land inside the borders of a sovereign Ukraine. They did, and the international community watched it happen. Ukraine, a country with an active military of only 5,000 soldiers had to decide how they were going to deal with one of the most powerful countries on earth. What did they do? Those who were able grabbed whatever they could get their hands on and pushed east until they came to the Russian Army. And then they started fighting. They had no uniforms and very little ammunition and only the food and water that they could carry. It really didn’t make sense, but they decided that they would rather die than deal with the oppression that their parents had to endure under Russia. They said, “We would rather die free than live as slaves.” They were not professionals, just citizens who were willing to pay the price required to live free. And then there were others. Churches and communities that rallied together to gather food, water, bullets, uniforms and body armor and then loaded up their cars to get them to the front. These were the citizen servants that helped the soldiers gain a foothold and stop the Russian war machine from moving forward. The vehicle in this picture was driven by the soldier whose picture is on the side. He was one of those volunteers who paid with his life so that future generations will not have to.
As Americans, we have a rich history of those who have paid the ultimate price so that we can be free. It is easy as we live our lives though to lose touch with the reality of what we enjoy. It can all become more history to us than something that must be stewarded and handed to the next generation. We take what we have been given for granted while others fight for their own right to be free. I am thankful for a professional military that keeps our nations enemies away from our borders, but I don’t ever want to forget that it is the citizen who must be willing to pay the price if the blessing of freedom that we have been given will endure.
Don’t ever forget. Freedom is paid for by the blood of those willing to give their lives so that others can live theirs. Let us always honor those who have gone before us and steward the gift that they died to give.