By Congressman Brad Wenstrup
America’s defenses started out with lanterns in a church steeple and the now famous, “One if by land, two if by sea.” It started with a wildly outnumbered band of citizens facing off against the most powerful nation in the world at that time. It began with bloody feet and no boots at Valley Forge. It began with people who believed freedom was worth sacrificing for, worth dying for.
We have evolved since then. Now the United States Armed Forces unite across land, sea, sky, cyberspace, and, now, outer space. We have the United States Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, Coast Guard, and Space Force. The men and women who volunteer to serve today are signing up to join the greatest fighting force the world has ever known. But across the centuries, we have had one common mission, then and now. Now — and since our inception — the common thread for all of those who have given their lives on our behalf is simple: freedom.
That is because when we defend the United States, we are defending an idea — not a king or even a government itself. It is an idea that is bigger than Democrats or Republicans, and it outlasts all our lifetimes. We defend Truth, Justice, and the American Way. We take an Oath to the United States Constitution first, to support and defend it against all enemies, foreign and domestic. We swear allegiance to a set of ideals contained in a document that calls for a more perfect Union and challenges us to establish justice and secure the blessings of liberty for the Americans who come after us.
While serving in Iraq, I discovered a quote from Bishop Fulton Sheen’s Wartime Prayer Book: “I’m not fighting to preserve the type of world we had just before the war. If I were, I’d be fighting to preserve a world that produced tyrants and dictators. The new world must be a better world than that, or it is not worth fighting for.” Freedom is what we fight for.
In the name of freedom, we have carried our flag — our stars and stripes — many places around the world. And every time, evildoers have feared her and those in need have prayed for her arrival. I’ve been there, and I’ve seen it. We go standing for freedom until freedom can stand on its own two feet. That is why Americans serve. That is why Americans give their lives — for others to live freely. That is why we memorialize them.
Here’s the thing about freedom, though: you can also lose it. Sometimes that loss is sudden and dramatic; sometimes it is incremental encroachments that gradually undermine liberty’s central and defining role in our government and society. Recently, I had a veteran who was also a physician approach me and say, “I miss the feeling I had while wearing this country’s uniform and fighting for freedom… I don’t know if I’d feel the same way if I was serving today.”
That should break all our hearts. This American Soldier wasn’t being critical; he was simply being honest. He was looking at today’s society and feeling freedom may be slipping away. Are we losing our understanding of freedom: what it looks like without it and why it’s worth protecting with our lives?
Saint Pope John Paul II once said: “Freedom consists not in doing what we like, but in having the right to do what we ought.”
Freedom has never been about self-indulgence or even solely about self-expression. It’s always been inextricably linked to duty and sacrifice. The reality is that it is less about self and more about others. It’s about serving. It’s about taking responsibility for safeguarding the rights of others – because you know that when their God-given right to self-determination is protected, we are all protected. We are all better off.
But it’s costly. Freedom needs an insurance policy, and premiums must be paid. Our veterans have always paid that premium for us, often with their lifeblood.
America’s Armed Forces serve knowing that the good they do on any given day will often be forgotten tomorrow. Yet, each and every one who serves carves out their own chapter in history. Our troops have not wasted their time on earth. And, as many have left this world too soon, the positive effects of their works will never perish. It’s up to each of us to ensure that they do not perish. Not just on Memorial Day, but every day.
Our troops died for freedom. Let’s not let them down.