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Monday, June 18, 2007

Someone has to tell these people that freedom isn't free


By Gordon Garnos

AT ISSUE: Communities across South Dakota are preparing to commemorate this nation's most significant observance, Independence Day. But in the very wake of this important day patriotism does not seem to be playing as important of a role to far too many people. Someone has to tell these people that our freedom in this great land isn't free.

THE TRAPPINGS of patriotism are beginning to be unfurled in most communities across South Dakota in preparation of the Fourth of July, just a couple of weeks away. We will soon see American flags of all sizes, military memorabilia from several wars, placards on cars identifying the participants in the parades and red, white and blue banners paying homage to veterans. There even may be special speakers in your town on that big day.

Beyond those symbols, underneath those patched and sometimes a little tight uniforms in the parade, lie hearts of men and women being touched by memories. They know first hand that the price of freedom isn't free. While our nation prepares to observe Independence Day, far too many of us haven't the foggiest idea what independence and freedom are all about, that our independence and our freedoms we enjoy in this great land of ours are so intertwined.

VETERANS FROM that Revolutionary War to todayıs veterans of the current war on terrorism will not be marching in those parades to glorify the horrors of war. Rather, they want to educate those who are not familiar with exactly what prices have been paid by those who have worn the uniform.

The Fourth of July observance, in a sense, is to brighten the future and not to illuminate the past. At the same time, as I have written so many times, it is so important that we learn from our past and that we remember those sacrifices made by so many people.

Sure, picnics and other outings are in the planning stages for the annual Independence Day and that is as it should be. But not at the cost of not participating in whatever your community may be planning. They are planning something, aren't they?

THE IMPORTANT THING about observing the Fourth of July is that it is a tremendous opportunity to educate those people, especially our younger people, who, sadly, too many of them could care less what the day means, let alone know about the sacrifices made so that day can be observed year after year since 1776.

Being a kid growing up in a small town West of the River I remember my dad, not just on the Fourth of July but every holiday observance, going out to the sidewalk in front of his bakery, first cleaning out a hole in the concrete, then planting our American flag with its long wooden pole there for the day of observance. Then, it would be reverently rolled up and put away to await that next time.

My dad wasn't an exception to displaying the flag. Those holes in the sidewalks up and down Main Street all held the American flag on those days as well. I wonder if those holes and their purpose are still there?

Patriotism and the importance of freedom weren't so much said in our household, but it was lived pretty much throughout the year. So, I guess, it was pretty well ingrained in me by the time I was in uniform and sent overseas to England.

IT WASN'T MY first Fourth of July away from home, but it was my inaugural first of May to observe the communist holiday. The area of England where I was stationed was heavy in coal mines, steel mills, socialists and communists. The front gate was locked and all passes were denied that day. My freedom was pinched and I didn't like it.

From England the next move was to Germany. It wasn't during the hot war, but the Cold War then as we had to be prepared for whatever came over the Iron Curtain.

Still, I had the opportunity to see a smidgen of what Dachau was all about during World War II. It was one of the several Nazi concentration camps where millions of Jews and other "undesirables" lost both their freedoms and their lives. Dachau, when I saw it was just a remnant of, or just a small piece of what was kept to remind the world about the importance of freedom.

As Independence Day approaches, I am reminded of what a person much smarter than I had to say: "It is not the preachers who make possible freedom of religion, nor reporters who mandate freedom of the press. Protest organizers have not made possible freedom of assembly, nor have political figures given us the right to vote.

"The clergymen and women, journalists, protesters and politicians are mere exercisers of these various liberties. It is the men and women who have made huge sacrifices throughout our history who have fought to preserve the freedoms we all enjoy."

That is what the Fourth of July is all about. Be proud to wave your flag. Someone has to tell those people who don't understand that freedom isn't free....

Gordon Garnos was long-time editor of the Watertown Public Opinion and recently retired after 39 years with that newspaper.  Garnos, a lifelong resident of South Dakota except for his military service in the U.S. Air Force, was born and raised in Presho.


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