Last Saturday I left the gym and went the grocery store just down the street. Yes, I was there on a Saturday. Weekend workouts aren’t my usual routine but I’m fluffy right now and taking steps to de-fluff. I jokingly call it, paying for my sins, which in this case refers to the months of gluttony that preceded Mr Mirror’s proclamation that something needed to be done. So off I went to the gym on a Saturday. I added an extra 1 hour cardio session and then because I have Gymrat-itis I did a good hard leg workout.
When I had finished my shopping, I stopped to say hello to a nice Asian man I see often, an employee, who was manning the self checkout area. One day, more than a year ago as I was going though his checkout lane he exchanged a few words with me. At that particular time I happened to be wearing my 7th Special Forces Group shirt. He said “I remember them. They were good men. That was a long time ago, more than 30 years but I’ll never forget.” We didn’t have time for more because there was a line behind me so I moved on through. From that day on, we always made it a point to say hello when I did my usual stop after the gym. Another day many months later he told me he had been a tunnel rat in Vietnam. On Saturday, he told me a little more of his story. He said he had been with the 3rd Marines. He told me that he had a Marine Corps hat he used to wear “but it had the Vietnam ribbon on it and they called me a baby killer.” He talked a little about his family, his sons and daughter. He said they asked him “how he could kill his own” referring to other Asian (Vietnamese?) people. He said they didn’t understand but he just told them that “Freedom isn’t free.”
Freedom isn’t free…It’s an expression you often hear. For some who use it, it’s a throwaway line with little meaning…something pithy to say when they have nothing else to contribute to a conversation but for so many others it touches that shining cord of truth that runs through all of us. Nobody knows this more powerfully than those who gear up and go out there into the fray, with conviction and a resolute heart what the costs actually are.
Different people carry the burden of that knowledge differently. For some it’s always locked away, never to be mentioned. For some it’s kept inside for years until the time is right and they are moved to tell certain things publicly (I heard a Vietnam era Army Ranger named Gary Dolan say that he didn’t speak of his experiences until 30 years after they occurred) . Sometimes they will volunteer bits and pieces if they determine that you’re someone they find worthy like my friend David (a former Marine who gives me things to read and shares personal reflections about his older brother, a Recon Marine who was killed while on patrol in a fierce firefight in Vietnam). Sometimes they’ll show you.
This amazing piece of artwork is on the back of a Soldier (Ranger) that I came in contact with through our mutual interest in a fit lifestyle. I saw it and was immediately struck by the great detail and profound meaning. It’s an entire conversation without words and I find it poignant and beautiful in it’s expression. He said I could share it and when I asked him if he wanted any words to accompany the photos he told me I could just say he’s “A true patriot.”
Indeed! True patriots; the ones who risk everything, who willing forgo all creature comforts, who endure heat, cold, hunger and bone-weary fatigue, who step forward when all others are running to the rear and who consequently see up close the worst that mankind can set against them.
I’m proud of them. I’m proud that they answered when called and proud to call them my countrymen. I know in my heart that freedom isn’t free. The same spirit and determination that’s rooted in them is what helped win it for the rest of us in the first place. They follow in the footsteps of those who went before, standing up, taking their turn despite the always open door right next to them that says, “the easy way out.”
“The Soldier above all other people, prays for peace, for he must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war.” (Douglass MacArthur)