Veterans Day is long since over. But those who pay freedom’s price, while rejoicing at past successes, know that freedom continues to hang in the balance and feel the need to give and receive ongoing support, especially during the holidays.
An exemplar in this regard is American Veterans Center.
At its recent national conference in Washington, D.C., one of several annual events they sponsor, including the National Memorial Day Parade, American military heroism was on poignant, powerful display, helping troops — past and current — heal from continued acts of heroism.
Members of the legendary Doolittle Raiders, Band of Brothers, and Tuskegee Airmen, as well as Major League Baseball players who fought in WWII, and decorated veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, and their families, all came to share and mentor.
Their stories were gripping.
Ed “Babe” Heffron, veteran of E (Easy) Company, 2nd Battalion, 506th parachute infantry, assigned to the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division, recounted that day during World War II when he and his team parachuted into Holland to liberate the Dutch people from Hitler’s reign of terror. Called Operation Market Garden, their heroics were immortalized in the Cornelius Ryan book A Bridge Too Far and its 1977 movie version, and more recently, in the HBO series, Band of Brothers, based on Stephen Ambrose’s book.
Dutch resistance members with troops of the US 101st Airborne in front of Eindhoven cathedral during Operation Market Garden in September 1944. One of those he rescued, Heffron said, compared losing his freedom to when, as a little boy, his mother got pushed off a bike, depriving them of their means of transportation. The profoundly grateful Dutchman reminded Heffron, “When you hear the word freedom, think about losing it. It’s when you lose it that it means everything.”
As to their own feelings that day, Heffron said:
“Everyone had the same idea (in the plane): what the hell am I doing up here? I could be back home having a soda or standing on the corner with the guys, (but) when you saw the faces of those Dutch people and the children, you knew (raising his voice) why you were there, you knew why you did what you had to do. I’m telling you, if you ever get in that predicament, you’ll know why you’re there. Just the look on their faces was everything.”
While it’s important to reflect on past heroics, Medal of Honor recipient Marine Colonel Harvey C. “Barney” Barnum, honored at the closing awards banquet for his valor in Vietnam, reflected on the present, emphasizing “we’re still at war.” And, he urged everyone to “say a prayer for those soldiers, seamen, airmen and marines who are on point tonight.”