Randy Forbes: Here we mark the price of freedom
It was one of those days where the heat takes your breath away. It was mid-summer in our nation’s capital and the sun beat down on the marble monuments and city sidewalks. I squinted my eyes and stood shoulder to shoulder with members of my staff handing out water bottles as our guests filed off of the buses, slowly but determined, one by one. They were eager. And so were we.
The National Park Service had just opened the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. My office arranged for World War II veterans from the Fourth District to come to our nation’s capital to experience the newly dedicated memorial firsthand. We knew that the memorial would be meaningful and that it was unlikely many veterans would have another opportunity to see it. So four hours and three busloads of veterans later, we stood ready to walk towards the memorial.
I remember wondering how everyone would fare in the heat – if they would wish that they had stayed home. But I could see in their faces that no Washington, D.C. July heat would keep them from a moment they had waited decades for.
From an aerial perspective, the World War II memorial is breathtaking. It is the size of a football field, the architecture grand and the design precise. When you look at the memorial head on, the granite pillars stand tall boasting the fortitude and strength of the United States. A fountain sprays up at the center signaling peace and hope. It’s a beautiful contrast.
But it is nothing compared to viewing the memorial alongside the very people who saw the second World War firsthand. When we arrived at the memorial walkway, many veterans paused, taken aback with memories and emotion. Some grabbed hold of their sons’ or daughters’ arms and walked slowly with them. Others looked up at the tall pillars and held back tears. To watch a World War II veteran place a hand on one of the memorial’s 4,000 gold stars is to humbly realize the weighty price of freedom.
Here we mark the price of freedom, the memorial reads.
That day will forever be etched in my memory. As I watched those veterans, I thought of my own father. I thought of the POWs, the Code Talkers, the Women in Wartime, the D-Day veterans. These were the men and women who walked the land in Europe, who fought on the frontlines, who nursed the wounded, who watched their friend take a dying breath. I was – I still am – filled with respect and appreciation.
I am also thankful for taking that moment when we did. As their generation ages, we move closer to closing the chapter on that page in our history. An estimated 413 WWII veterans die each day, and by the mid-2030s, it’s likely there will be no more living WWII veterans. We are in our final moments with the members of this generation. Their voices are slowly fading.
As they pass their legacy along, we have another generation of veterans to honor and support. Theirs is a different story, made up of different moments and experiences, but birthed out of the same love of country, strength, and bravery. In this way, our nation’s veterans are connected. They are the men and women who have kept our nation free.
One of my greatest privileges as a representative in Congress is to advocate for our nation’s veterans. The realities our veterans face today stand in stark contrast to moments at the memorials. Red tape, long VA clinic lines, mounds of paperwork and backlogs are no way to treat our heroes. They fought for America and we have a responsibility to fight for them: for uncompromised care, excellence in hospital care, and benefits without strings.
This Veterans Day, let us pause to thank those who commit their lives to our nation. They have given their all for us and we should be proud to fight for them. As you are out in your neighborhood, shake the hand of a veteran. Ask them to stand in your Sunday school class and share their stories. Attend a parade. Send a Facebook message to a veteran you know and simply say thank you.
I assure you, when you view our nation from the vantage point of our veterans, you too will humbly realize the price of freedom.
Randy Forbes represents the Fourth District of Virginia in Congress.