My father fought in the Korean War long before I was a glimmer in either parent’s eye. He was eighteen years old, and had not yet met my mother when he decided to put his young life on the line for his country.
My father not only enlisted in the army, but he signed up for combat duty in Korea. He said he did this because he would rather fight for freedom overseas so that war would not come to America and touch the lives of his mother, sister, father and other families.
My father never talked much about his combat experience, however, whenever strong rains pelted our roof, he was reminded of the monsoon rains in Korea, and he would always comment on how thankful he was to have a roof over his head.
He recalled trudging in mud holding his gun high above his head in an effort to protect his only shield from death. My father received two bronze medals. One I know was for retrieving a wounded fellow soldier from a minefield. I only learned this by pressing my father for details. Then my mother would say, “Daddy was a hero and very brave.” He would not accept the praise, but would solemnly state, “The real heroes never made it back.”
I never truly recognized how deeply my father’s experience in Korea had to have affected his life. Born during an age that was relatively free from war, with the exception of the images of the war in Viet Nam coming into our home and other homes in America daily on TV when I was a child, I was naïve to the effects war can have on people’s lives. The war in Viet Nam was not a war I felt the pains of firsthand. Luckily, no one I knew was over there, and I was too young to understand it, but I do recall my father’s pain at seeing anti-war demonstrators holding signs blaming American G.I.’s for murder.
My father never lived to see the horror of 9/11, when his fear became reality and war did come to America. He died in 1987 at age 55 due to a heart attack. My mom feels all combat soldiers’ lives are shortened as a result of the conditions they faced in war. I agree, and think we owe our soldiers a debt we can never repay.
I am sure my father knew I loved and respected him, but I wish that I had thanked him for protecting America. I wish that I had thanked him for fighting for the freedoms and the lifestyle I as an American enjoy every day. The freedom to select leaders, to say what I want, to learn in a diversified environment, and to share in the bounty of America.
To honor the sacrifices so many have made for our freedoms, we must insist on preserving these freedoms. We must pass on to the next generations an understanding of our constitution and the unalienable rights we were all born with.
A children’s book, Veterans: Heroes in Our Neighborhood, by Valerie Pfundstein, is a rhyming picture book for children ages 5 and up, that can help parents, grandparents and teachers share with youngsters the fact that Freedom is not Free, and that many heroes have sacrificed much to protect our freedoms. It also reminds us that many of these heroes are our relatives and neighbors, and we should all be aware of that and thank them.
Most of us neglect to acknowledge the sacrifices that the men and women of the military make for us. This Veteran’s Day, and every day, I am one soldier’s daughter who wants to express my heartfelt gratitude to my father and to all soldiers past, present and future who have made the ultimate commitment to freedom. Thank You.
Diana Erbio is a freelance writer and author of “Coming to America: A Girl Struggles to Find her Way in a New World”. Read her new blog series “Statues: The People They Salute” and visit the Facebook Page.