Harriet Freiberger: Raising our flags in honor:
November 9, 2008
As we walk down Lincoln Avenue or through the grocery’s aisles, enter the bank or leave the library, we’ll look around, trying to identify the veterans whom this day honors, they who have stood in this nation’s first line of defense. No visible designation tells us who they are – no uniform, no badge, no medal. They ask for no acknowledgment. Yet, they could have died facing danger that we have never met.
How many of us would put our lives on the line for anything? Most of us hesitate to give up a place in a line of traffic, much less risk death to save someone we don’t even know. A few of us, only a few, have helped a friend or family member with the gift of a kidney or an optic lens. More of us, with donations of blood, have preserved the lives of anonymous persons. When we read in the newspaper about a woman who stopped an assault on a stranger who happened to be waiting on the same bus and ended up getting shot herself, we wonder what our response would be in a similar situation.
Of course, there are the pursuers of “high adventure.” They climb treacherous mountain peaks, race in high-powered cars at incredible speeds, course down class-four white-water in fragile boats, sky-dive from airplanes. No sport is treacherous enough to satisfy the thrill-seekers’ desire for adrenaline, but it is only their own lives they place in jeopardy. Yes, they do demonstrate heroism, going to the aid of companions, but there is a huge difference between rescuing a partner in a voluntary gamble and advancing with an army into enemy territory.
For the vast majority of us, threatening attacks are far outside our daily interaction with other people. Here, in our town, we know our emergency responders by name. Firefighters and law enforcement officers usually are friends or at least acquaintances. They are our closest connection to danger that is included within our usual frame of reference. They are part of our lives, readily identified, and often acknowledged. We can walk up to them and use the words that express our appreciation for the work they do. Gratitude is our natural response to a helpful or thoughtful act.
However, since there is no way to know who among us is the veteran, we need to find another method of saying “thank you.” Nov. 11 has been set aside exactly for that purpose. Of the 300 million people who live in the United States of America, some eight million are veterans; of Routt County’s 20,000 residents, some 1,700 have served in the military during wartime.
By honoring you, the veterans who are our friends and neighbors, we pay tribute to them all.
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The oldest among you served during the war that followed a brutal and malicious attack at Pearl Harbor. You were our protectors. One of you served as navigator in a B29, flying 12-hour-long missions from Guam to Japan, helping prevent further aggression on this side of the Pacific.
Another of you marched with the 42nd Rainbow Division that penetrated Germany’s Siegfried Line, assisting in the effort that ended Hitler’s definitive plan to take over our country.
Many of you fought a half-century ago, as 20-year-olds, in Korea, where war ended with a divided country and without a peace conference.
Even more of you who are living today served in Vietnam and came home to a country almost as divided as the place where you fought. The names of your friends are etched on a black wall in Washington, D.C., a monument to those who died and to the turbulent 1960s.
You, our youngest, have stood guard in Bosnia and have weathered dust storms in the Middle East. You have held ground in a war that followed the events of Sept. 11, 2001.
We raise our flags in your honor.
Harriet Freiberger has lived in the Elk River Valley since 1982.