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On July 4, Remember Those Who Sacrificed for Americans' Freedom

By Jeff Emanuel, 7/3/2006 10:36:39 AM

On this 230th Independence Day, as we prepare to cook out with family, watch parades and fireworks, and otherwise enjoy the holiday, let us take a moment to remember those who have made this possible — those who have sacrificed to create this nation, and to keep it strong and free for so long, for it has not been cheap.

A large part of the reason America has managed to exist and to endure is the number of brave, dedicated heroes (military and civilian) she has been blessed with. As we celebrate yet another anniversary of our Independence, it is critical that these people be remembered, and that they be honored. It would be greatly detrimental for America to allow any of these courageous individuals to be forgotten or marginalized; wherever this may be happening, it is crucial that that mistake be corrected.

An example of this dangerous marginalization (and the attitude which allows it to happen) can be found in an incident which occurred at the University of Washington, with the sequence of events surrounding the proposed memorial to Colonel Greg "Pappy" Boyington.

Boyington, a graduate of UW, was a Marine pilot in World War II, where he qualified as an ace (shot down 26 enemy aircraft, tied for the most ever by an American), suffered as a Japanese POW for 20 months, earned the Navy Cross, and was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, the highest honor that can be bestowed on a military member.

Earlier this year, the UW student senate brought to the floor a proposal to construct a memorial to this American hero—and promptly rejected it (45-45-10, with the senate chair casting the tie-breaking vote against) due to concerns that “a military hero who shot down enemy planes was not the right kind of person to represent the school." According to the minutes of the meeting, one student senator "questioned whether it was appropriate to honor a person who killed other people," and said she "didn't believe a member of the Marine Corps was an example of the sort of person UW wanted to produce." Another complained that "many monuments at UW already commemorate rich white men."

This was appalling both for its lack of respect and for its ignorance. Colonel Boyington, like so many other American military heroes, was an emodiment of one of the many great things this country has come to represent: the American Dream. Far from being a rich white man, he was a Native American born in poverty to divorced parents; his stepfather (whom Boyington only found out was not his real father when he had to provide his birth certificate to join the Corps) was a violent alcoholic, and he grew up (after several moves) in a small logging town in Idaho. He could very well have amounted to nothing at all had he not taken advantage of opportunities not available to many outside of America, such as participating in ROTC in college, and look what he accomplished as a result of that!

America and her universities are extremely fortunate in many ways, not the least of which is that, within the population, there is a strong veteran presence. The majority of America is supportive of our armed forces, and of our many current soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines, as well as our veterans who have returned to civilian life after serving their country.
Graduates of colleges across America have been killed in action defending freedom around the world, and our universities, both in their student bodies and in their student governments, should always remember the sacrifice that America’s veterans have made, and continue to make, so that they might continue to go about their daily lives without having to concern themselves with such things.

The Boyington story, which ignited firestorm of protest, letter-writing, and blogging across the nation, had a happy ending. UW’s student senate finally approved a monument to the WWII hero, along with four other Medal of Honor-winning UW alumni—although 27 of the 100 senators still opposed the memorial or abstained from voting. One student leader who cast her vote against complained at a post-vote press conference that the issue had "served as leverage for the conservative right-wing movement, which can also be characterized as "quasi-fascist" according to the backlash we've all received for speaking out against it." She appears to be suffering from a belief which is unfortunately common to many in the extreme wings of Leftist political ideology (as famously shared by the Dixie Chicks, among others, in recent months)—the belief that their dissent is the only speaking out that is protected by the First Amendment, and that anybody's opposition to them is the equivalent of "quasi-fascis[m]."

To her and the other 26 UW student senators who did not support the recognition of true American hero and a true member of the Corps, from someone who has served alongside many a proud, dedicated Marine: if a member of the USMC, ace pilot, and Medal of Honor recipient who fought to defend this country against imperial Japan and against Nazi Germany, and who bravely suffered as a POW for almost 2 years while enduring hellish torture (real torture) and the prospect of never returning home alive, is NOT the type of person you want your school to produce, then what is it that you DO want?

And, on behalf of veterans everywhere, to the vast majority of people at America’s colleges and in her communities, including those at UW who voted to honor this American hero, I applaud you and thank for your support. It is good to see that the majority of Washington student leaders chose to listen to their fellow Americans, and to do the right thing. Several others, though, appear to be badly in need not only of education on the First Amendment—that they are not the only ones allowed to speak their minds—but, even more, of education on the role the military has played in their having such a right in the first place, and on the rights—none—which they would currently enjoy were America not full of people like Boyington who were willing to fight for this nation’s honor, and to give their lives to preserve the freedoms and ideals which America has represented for well over two centuries—and which, God willing, she will represent for at least that many more.

So, on this two hundred and thirtieth Fourth of July since the advent of the United States of America, please take a moment to thank a soldier or veteran for his or her service, and please keep in your thoughts and prayers those who keep this the world’s greatest, most free, and most benevolent nation through their daily sacrifice and single-minded dedication to the cause which brought together our Founding Fathers so many years ago: the cause of Liberty.

Freedom is not free, as the well-worn and truthful saying has it; however, with people like Colonel Boyington and millions of other kindred spirits who have been, are, and will be committed to defending America and maintaining her ideals, and with the continued grace of God—our Creator who, as our Founders recognized, endowed humanity with the inalienable rights on which this country was founded—this nation will endure, and will only improve. On this Fourth of July, we ask only this: may God bless our men and women in uniform who fight to defend our freedoms, may God bless the rest of this nation’s citizens who work daily to make this nation what it is, and, most of all, may God bless America.

Jeff Emanuel, a Special Operations military veteran, studies Classics at the University of Georgia. He is also a contributing editor for conservative web log, and is a columnist for the Athens, GA Banner-Herald newspaper.

© 2006 Hawaii Reporter, Inc.

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