Back in the 1960s I visited Nashville and went to a concert by Up with People where they sang the Paul Colwell song “Freedom isn’t free! Freedom isn’t free! You gotta pay a price…You’ve gotta sacrifice, For your liberty.” That song and that concert has stuck in my mind ever since. The life and funeral of Senator John McCain talks about he lived out this truth and it is good to hear people talk about his life, especially how he survived imprisonment and then came home to serve his country (especially in establishing a normalized relationship with Vietnam)–a Vietnam veteran who is a genuine, national hero. That is almost seems inconceivable.
It is great how America has changed its view of people who serve in the military. When I went to Vietnam as a soldier it was a difficult time in America. Everyone hated the war and many soldiers did not like it as well. How could you like war?! We served because we wanted to serve our country and that is what we were required to do. Coming home to America was difficult as well. We were encouraged not to wear our uniforms to airports so we would avoid the derision directed toward American military. I recall wearing my short sleeve uniform when I arrived in Pittsburgh to be rejoined with my wife for Christmas in 1970. I went from the oven of Vietnam to the freezer of Pittsburgh. When I hear people say “thank you for your service,” I come close to tears because I cannot believe people could actually mean it.
I didn’t hate Vietnam or its people. It was my first introduction to Asia and I liked seeing the people and the culture. I would end up in Asia again for almost a couple of decades. I thoroughly loved Asia and wish that I could still live there. I have never been entirely comfortable living in America since those days in Vietnam and my later service in Korea and the Philippines. I think our culture lacks real depth and its attitude toward older people is less than ideal (although people generally have been kind, especially since I have with certain limitations due to health issues).
I am also reminded of the time I first visited the Vietnam Memorial. I stood there and shed tears because I recognized a couple of names on the Wall and I also recognized that thousands of my fellow servicemen who did not make it home alive. It was overwhelming. It still is.
I wish I could be assured that people will not have to face such issues in the future. But I think we are all aware that freedom requires eternal vigilance. We will have to continue to pay the price. I honor all those who will have to pay the sacrifice. Hopefully, we will have more John McCains. We need them.