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Posted July 4, 2009

The Price of Freedom

This is St. Peter's Parish church in Virginia where it is believed George and Martha Washington were married. It is the same Parish where Nicholas Gentry, believed to be a British soldier and then later recorded as a Virginia land owner, had Elizabeth Gentry, his daughter and my great-grandmother several times removed, baptized.

I watched The Patriot the other day and was reminded of how my ancestors suffered during the Revolutionary War. I thought about the men in my family who had fought in every war since this country struggled for freedom on its way to becoming a great nation. I didn't know most of them, only by names and recorded land grants awarded them for their service in the fight against Great Britain.

As a youngster, I was terrified, yet curious at the same time, of great-great Uncle Pete's wooden leg that was kept in the closet of Big Mama's house. His loss of limb occurred during the War Between The States.

There were stories about great Uncle Alec's escapades during the Spanish American War and my grandfather's stint during World War I. Dad's box of medals sat on a shelf along with the 82nd Airborne jumpsuit that hung below it in the living room closet.

Dad joined the army when he was seventeen. During the Great Depression, he saw that as a way to put clothes on his back and food in his belly. He never dreamed of a war breaking out. But when the bombs were dropped on Pearl Harbor, he volunteered to transfer to the paratroopers - one of the most dangerous jobs in the military. While serving as a "Devil In Baggy Pants," as German General Rommel used to call the paratroopers who jumped behind enemy lines creating as much havoc as possible as they fought their way back to their own lines, Dad sometimes became embittered. At twenty-two, he was considered an old man because most of his buddies had been killed. Out of approximately 125 men in I Company, less than a handful survived the war.

Dad watched the grand parades in France where the military leaders garnered all of the glory. Growing up, when Dad and I watched the TV series Combat he talked about his experiences. He said, "The generals weren't the ones doing the fighting. It was the poor boys who went three months without having our socks washed with anything more than a diesel fuel rinse who were trying to suck in our breath in icy foxholes to keep from being hit by stray bullets. Fighter planes slugged it out overhead and we never knew when a bullet had our name on it."

It wasn't until Dad was on leave in Paris that he understood the whole picture. In a restroom, he saw an emaciated Jewish man attempting to bathe. He said, "It wasn't until I saw that man, who was nothing more than sharp bones covered by skin, that I truly realized what I was fighting for."

War isn't fun, nor is it romantic. Sometimes it's the women and children who suffer the most. Everyone wants to go to heaven, as Kenny Chesney's song says, "just not now."

So, I was surprised to read a lengthy email sent to me from one of my daughter's friends who I'd been chatting with recently. He was getting ready to graduate from Air Assault school. I'd told him about my dad and his experiences fighting in every major battle but one in the European Theatre and about how I'd jumped out of an airplane with a WWII parachute, just to understand a miniscule amount of what Dad experienced.

The following is a portion of the email:

"Hey Momma Moss! I was pinned with the (Air Assault) wings and given a Diploma/Certificate to put on my wall. It was probably the proudest moment I have had in a truly long time. I am positive that God had a hand in my accomplishing the mission. I am so proud of what your father did and all the medals he received. I know he did not consider himself a hero or anything special, he did it for the men around him and for his country. That is how I feel about the military. I knew from about 1st grade on that my life would not be complete without fulfilling the desire to serve. I cannot put it into words what it means to know that God has given me the strength and desire to follow all the great generations who have made and maintained this country. I am confident that my generation will just fall right into place and carry on the legacy."

Those are incredible words from a young man who has had the best private school education and opportunities this country has to offer. He could have elected to advance with a career, opting out of taking a chance on losing his life or suffering from wounds and emotional scars. However, this is a young man who "gets the bigger picture." He so reminds me of King David, a young man who stepped up when everyone else cowered in Goliath's shadow.

Just when I'm worrying about this country, the next generations, our young people, I get an incredible email like that and it warms my soul.

I didn't do the following research, someone else did and Angela Hunt posted it on her blog. I'm passing it on so that more people can know the facts about their great country. Have an enjoyable July 4th!

"Have you ever wondered what happened to the 56 men who signed the Declaration of Independence?

"Five signers were captured by the British as traitors, and tortured before they died.

"Twelve had their homes ransacked and burned.

"Two lost their sons serving in the Revolutionary Army; another had two sons captured.

"Nine of the 56 fought and died from wounds or hardships of the Revolutionary War.

"They signed and they pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor.

"What kind of men were they?

"Twenty-four were lawyers and jurists. Eleven were merchants, nine were farmers and large plantation owners; men of means, well educated, but they signed the Declaration of Independence knowing full well that the penalty would be death if they were captured.

"Carter Braxton of Virginia, a wealthy planter and trader, saw his ships swept from the seas by the British Navy. He sold his home and properties to pay his debts, and died in rags.

"Thomas McKeam was so hounded by the British that he was forced to move his family almost constantly. He served in the Congress without pay, and his family was kept in hiding. His possessions were taken from him, and poverty was his reward.

"Vandals or soldiers looted the properties of Dillery, Hall, Clymer, Walton, Gwinnett, Heyward, Ruttledge, and Middleton.

"At the battle of Yorktown, Thomas Nelson, Jr., noted that the British General Cornwallis had taken over the Nelson home for his headquarters. He quietly urged General George Washington to open fire. The home was destroyed, and Nelson died bankrupt.

"Francis Lewis had his home and properties destroyed. The enemy jailed his wife, and she died within a few months. John Hart was driven from his wife's bedside as she was dying. Their 13 children fled for their lives. His fields and his gristmill were laid to waste. For more than a year he lived in forests and caves, returning home to find his wife dead and his children vanished."

Remember: freedom is never free!

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Email to....:vmoss@livingwaterfiction.com