Fireworks, parades, BBQ, hamburgers, hot dogs, and lots of red, white and blue. The 4th of July is the pinnacle of summer celebrations. We celebrate the history of our country and freedom. It’s a grand day of flag-waving celebration in the USA!
And by our simple birthright in the United States, we are citizens enveloped in freedom to choose God. We are free to worship Him. Free to carry the Bible openly and read His word. Free to gather together in the study of scripture. Free to gather in prayer.
In many countries of the world, this is a crime. Punishable by death.
So is one day of celebration enough? I think not. Especially when we consider the sacrifice paid to guarantee this freedom.
As a young student, I loved school and loved to read. In my elementary school library, I devoured the biographies of historical figures that founded our nation, and I read the biographies of Davy Crockett, William Travis, and Jim Bowie, and every other book available about the Alamo. I acquired book knowledge of our history and the sacrifices of the founding fathers, but it wasn’t until I started dating my husband that history pierced my heart. Every Bard family gathering became a glimpse into history.
My husband is an only child, but he has a large extended family. Four aunts and seven uncles on his paternal side. All eleven have departed this earth, but I was privileged to sit among them for many years. Several of them were granted long lives, well into their eighties and nineties by God. I often think that was God’s way of rewarding them for their sacrifice. But maybe it was God’s way of allowing me to touch history, to hug and love the very men who sacrificed for my freedom.
Whether around a domino table, picnic table, or campfire, I listened in awe to the stories of their service during World War II. No, they didn’t boast, they weren’t seeking favor, medals, or a pat on the back. Often the conversations started with a simple question from a curious nephew, or with a noticeable pause and narrowing glint of the eye as one of the brothers initiated “I remember when…”
In those moments everyone quieted and leaned in.
Their stories were shared straight forward and matter-of-factly, with no embellishment or self-promotion. They spoke as if these testimonies of uncommon service were a common, everyday occurrence that any citizen would do in the same situation. But I often left the gatherings wondering, “Could I have done that?”
That’s a question I still ponder each Independence Day, Veterans Day, Memorial Day, and D-Day. The cost of freedom tallied on the calculator of my heart as I spent time in the presence of these valiant men.
I met Uncle Earl only one time. On the patio area of the Veteran’s Hospital in Waco, he stood silently, tall and rail thin, smoking a cigarette in what would prove to be a long chain of cigarettes, as we entered. Without fanfare, the three brothers, my husband, and I sat around a table. As the foursome reminisced about earlier, fun times as young boys, I silently observed.
Weary eyes marked his face. He was soft-spoken and gentle in demeanor. This surprised me at first, not at all what I expected. His soft-spoken, gentle demeanor was in direct contrast to the post WWII memories I’d been told about his years following his military service. His weary eyes saddened me as I could only imagine all the sights he had endured during the war.
I said little during that visit, quieted by a deep reverence and respect for this man and his brothers who had paid a precious price for my freedom. No one spoke it, but everyone knew it; Uncle Earl’s time was limited. Those three Bard boys spoke of their time growing up together at home on the farm, pulling pranks on each other in the very home I now call mine. Laughter peppered their visit. Not one word was mentioned about Earl’s time in the service, or their time. This was a day for the love of brothers, the good times. Uncle Earl’s sacrifice was unspoken that day, but deeply known.
Uncle Earl was stationed in Hawaii aboard the U.S.S. Detroit on December 7, 1941. He witnessed the horrors of war firsthand that day, valiantly fighting for his fellow countrymen, our country, and his very own life. He survived that day of infamy–the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor.
As a survivor, Uncle Earl was the first line of men faithfully serving in World War II. No, he didn’t get a break, a respite, or time to recover. He went to war. The U.S.S. Detroit miraculously escaped the harbor onslaught in the throes of the surprise attack and immediately went on the offensive, patrolling the Pacific waters searching for any remaining segments of the Japanese attack force. Despite the torpedoes, the bombing attacks, the staggering death count, and escaping his own death against the odds on that fateful December day, he continued his service on the U.S.S. Detroit making at least thirteen treacherous trips between the U.S. mainland and Hawaii. A year and a half after the attack on Pearl Harbor, he was transferred from the U.S.S. Detroit to another ship, continuing on in the battle for freedom.
Those weary eyes etched with deep lines peered back at us as we sat around the table on the VA patio. Can you imagine the haunting images hidden within? The thin frame, his tired and frail hand slightly hesitating as he gently nursed the next cigarette to his mouth. Can you imagine the strength and heroic efforts in those hands and body on that fateful day of reckoning? Can you imagine the courage it took to awake the next day and bravely seek out the very enemy who destroyed thousands of lives just the day before, knowing your country was now fully engaged in a worldwide war? Wondering if the dawn of each new day would bring a repeat attack? Wondering if the tumultuous water camouflaged a torpedo targeting its way to their ship as it sliced through the deep Pacific waters?
Uncle Earl survived Pearl Harbor and World War II. That alone should be enough sacrifice. Yet, after his honorable discharge and his return home to the family farm, he would ultimately pay a lifelong cost. In what would now certainly be diagnosed as post-traumatic stress disorder, Uncle Earl exhibited signs of stress shortly after his return home from the war. As his stress and difficulties adapting to post-war life escalated, he exhibited temper and threats of violence within the very family he loved. His family loved him and sought out the post-war medical care provided to veterans. To “cure” his outbursts, the VA medical doctors ultimately recommended and performed a lobotomy—a surgery that permanently severed connections in Uncle Earl’s brain, an extreme measure that is no longer condoned or performed. He spent the rest of his life under VA care and the supervision of a court guardianship.
In my twenty-nine years of gathering around the Bard tables during the lives of these courageous men, it was clear that Uncle Earl’s brothers carried that decision heavily on their hearts. While they all paid a high cost for freedom in WWII, they respected that Uncle Earl paid the highest. My father-in-law often told me in our discussions, his voice laden with a hint of guilt and a silent plea for understanding, “Monica, we just didn’t know what to do. His violent outbursts just kept getting worse.” My father-in-law, the last sibling to meet death in that large family of eleven, carried that apology to his own grave.
The fireworks of the 4th of July have all been lit. The red, white, and blue has all been packed away for another year. The holiday is over, and we’ve stepped back into our daily routine, but I still wonder, “Could I have done that?” Friends, if we were cast in the same scenario, would we be willing to pay the high cost of freedom?
It seems the least we can do is celebrate our freedom more than just one day.
Not with fireworks and BBQ, but with hearts filled with gratitude.
With lives that reflect gratitude and appreciation for the high cost of freedom.
With hands and feet thankfully serving others, just as the men and women who courageously served before us.
With hearts that love one another, just as Christ loved us.
For He made the ultimate sacrifice, in full payment of our sins, so that we may live in and experience the freedom found only in Christ.
“Greater love has no one that this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”John 15:13
It may indeed be the week after the official 4th of July holiday on our calendars, but friends, we should celebrate our freedom every day.
We should remember the substantial and real price paid for our freedom, and live every single day as Happy Independence Day!