From Valley Forge forward, your vote is their legacy

November 6, 2016
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electionveteransdayAnyone venturing up the stairs into my inner sanctum (part man cave, part library, part office and all Americana) is greeted by William Trego’s 1883  “March to Valley Forge” painting depicting George Washington on horseback reviewing his tired and battered troops as they pass to Valley Forge and Arnold Friberg’s bicentennial tribute “Prayer at Valley Forge” of the general kneeling in prayer in the snow and bitter cold of that winter of 1777-78.

Venture further in and see above the window portraits of Ulysses S Grant and Robert E Lee bracketing a print of Lowell Davis’ “Forged in Fire” of the burning of Carthage in 1864.

In the corner left of that window the burial flag, medals, and portrait of one Harry Albright who as a kid from Kansas in the 40’s was shipped off to war, saw Anzio, and then spent the rest of the war in one of the worst POW camps in the European theater.  He was the father-in-law I never knew, but trust me, ask anyone who’s been in that room and they’ll tell you he makes his presence known.

Immediately to the right of that window, on top of the old roll top desk where these columns are written is the official ships data book of the USS Arizona, a D Day commemorative plate with “Ike” front and center, a model B-17, the restored B-29 “Doc” first flight coin, all but pieces in a larger sampling of Americana scattered about.  Hanging on the wall to the right, under a brass eagle with wings outstretched the pen and ink prints of Major Greg “Pappy” Boyington and Ensign George Gay, Jr. and the planes of freedom they flew those oh so many years ago.

Boyington first flew combat with the famous “Flying Tigers” squadron helping the Chinese against the invading Japanese. Rejoining the Marine Corps in 1942 after Pearl Harbor he is the fighter ace, Medal of Honor recipient, and Japanese POW whose memoir was the basis for the 1970’s television series “Baa Baa Black Sheep”.

Ensign Gay’s story is less known but no less significant. As the sole survivor of the ill-fated Torpedo Squadron Eight attack against the Japanese carrier task force during the Battle of Midway he watched from underneath his seat cushion to avoid Japanese strafing as the selfless sacrifice of his squadron mates allowed American dive bombers to send three of those carriers to the bottom of the Pacific Ocean.  And so it was that on June 4, 1942, less than six months post the devastation of December 7, 1941 the bravery of 30 men broke the momentum of the Japanese Imperial Navy and changed the entire course of the war in the Pacific.

I do not relay the above out of ego or braggadocio, but of open, honest humility.  The entire monetary value of my little collection wouldn’t buy an hour’s worth of jet fuel for Air Force One, but aside from my wife and family, it is the most valuable part of my life.

Constant reminders of just how fragile this thing we call freedom truly is.

Because before any word is written, any paragraph edited, any column gets submitted, it all starts with a remembrance of who came before me and an immeasurable respect for the unfathomable sacrifices they made.

That at any given moment, from Valley Forge, to Gettysburg, to Midway, to Inchon, to Khe Sanh, Fallujah and who knows what still to come, every day we wake is owed to the men and women who have and continue to stand in the breach; that we lay peacefully at night.

This Tuesday marks one of the most consequential elections in our history.  And while our choices are anything but optimal, a choice must be made.

All I ask is that before you make that choice; please take a moment to remember those now eternal that made it all possible.  And make yourself a mental note, that whatever the result come November 9th, it all means nothing without November 11th.  God Bless them all, God Bless them each and every one.

Publisher Note:  A version of this column first appeared in the November 6, 2016 print edition of the Joplin Globe.

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