Sunday, November 8, 2009

Heroes in our Midst

I read a story recently by Laura Craven of the Star-Ledger in New Jersey about Genevieve Rausch. At a ceremony in her honor, the 93 year-old sat patiently as local dignitaries paid homage to her. The ceremony, over sixty years in the making was certainly in order, and long over due.

Rausch, a member of the U.S. Army, was a pilot in the Women Air Force Service Pilots (WASP) of World War II. From 1942 to 1944, the women took over non-combat military missions across the U.S. – test flying planes, teaching male pilots, and towing targets for artillery practice- so that male pilots could be deployed for combat. The pilots were skilled in the areas of navigation, meteorology, Morse code, and firearms. Yet, they received none of the prestige as their male counterparts did.

President Obama recently signed legislation acknowledging and awarding the members of WASP with the Congressional Gold Medal, Congress’ highest honor. Of the original 1,830 members of WASP, only 300 are with us today. Their service to our country is but one more example of why the United States military is composed of the finest men and women our nation has to offer.

As war continues in Irag and Afghanistan, Veterans Day this week will be marked with the soberness that comes from understanding that the cause for liberty and freedom continues. We pay tribute to those who have made the ultimate sacrifice, and thank all who have and are currently serving today. Understanding that constant threats exist, we also pause to pray for and remember all those touched by the recent tragedy at Ft. Hood, Texas.

Ask any soldier, active or retired, and they will tell you with a deep sense of humility that they are not heroes. In fact, most would cringe at the suggestion. What we understand from those we honor this week are their leadership qualities that inspire all of us – honor, duty, and service.

In the humble beginnings of our republic, ordinary men and women answered the call to protect and defend. With the recent commissioning of the USS New York, we must not forget the sacrifices made by those who paved the way for our freedom in the most primitive conditions imaginable.

In his bestseller, 1776, historian David McCullough describes the horrific conditions that existed during that brutal winter. “With firewood selling for $20 a cord in Boston, more and more trees were cut down, including the old elm at the corner of Essex and Orange streets, known as the Liberty Tree, which provided fourteen cords. A hundred or more houses were pulled apart. Old barns, old wharves, and derelict ships were chopped up, almost anything that would burn. On orders from General Howe, Old North Church was demolished for firewood.”

From the warmth and comfort of our homes this week, the events of 1776 will likely not be remembered. While we may take the day for granted, unsung heroes go about their duty with pride and honor. They do so with no fanfare, no limelight. But these faithful patriots, people like Genevieve Rausch, remind us that heroes’ in fact do exist.

To the soldiers keeping watch at outposts at the DMZ in South Korea, on the streets of Baghdad, and Kandahar, we say thank you. To the Rough Riders who stormed San Juan Hill (San Juan Heights), and those who stormed the shores at Normandy, we say thank you.

Our brave soldiers of the Korean and Vietnam conflicts deserve our gratitude and respect – thank you. To the shoeless patriots of the Revolution who left their bloody footprints in the snow, we say thank you.

Freedom is fragile and we must never forget the sacrifices made so that we can enjoy it today. “I must study politics and war,” John Adams said, “that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. My sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history, naval architecture, navigation, commerce, and agriculture, in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry, and porcelain.”

Veterans, we salute you. Thank you for reminding us that heroes are still among us.

© 2009 Doug Dickerson

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