“What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly; it is dearness only that gives everything its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as freedom should not be highly rated.”
~ Thomas Paine
21 years ago this summer, I took the lightly sloped path down to the Vietnam memorial in Washington D.C. During my earlier childhood, I had listened to brief stories of my father’s wartime service in the jungles of Southeast Asia, but those stories gained new significance as name after name rose up from the ground, indelibly etched into the reflective black granite. All too soon, the granite silently towered above me and a lump rose in my throat. Somehow, hearing about 58,000 people dying doesn’t leave the same impression as seeing thousands of names stretching out in every direction. As I took in this sight, I wondered if I was looking at any of the names of my father’s friends. What names would he look for?
I gazed at my murky reflection in the shiny stone—a fourteen-year-old kid looking through tens of thousands of names. Real names of real people who made real sacrifices to protect those who couldn’t protect themselves. Average men and women paid the ultimate price in the hopes of preserving freedom.
Across the reflecting pool stood another eerie testimony to the forgotten war in Korea. Life-like statues of soldiers seemed to wade through rice patties, while on a nearby wall, real faces from the war stared like silent sentinels at the visitors walking by. My grandfather fought in this war. And Vietnam. And World War II. How many of these faces did he see? How many friends did he lose? I never found out.
A few days later, I gazed somberly across the gentle lines of white tombstones that carpeted the grounds of Arlington National Cemetery. We looked at the headstone for Glenn Miller along with a few other “well-known” among the fallen. This effort was shortly and sharply contrasted by the tomb of the unknown soldier, perpetually guarded by a silent, impeccably-dressed soldier. Each stone in Arlington still stands in quiet tribute to lives lost from the time of the Civil War to now. More graves are added every day.
If I didn’t grasp the cost of freedom before, it was brought home to me as I toured the nation’s capitol.
Independence Day is a time to celebrate freedom, but may we always remember that our freedom came at a price. Christians, especially, should be intimately aware of the cost of freedom as our freedom from sin was obtained with the dearest sacrifice of all—the son of God, Jesus Christ.
Freedom is never free. Celebrate independence, and remember its cost.