Do We Take Our Freedom For Granted?
Posted May 18, 2009, 10:05 am
Growing Bolder asks leaders, thinkers, writers, life coaches, entertainers and role models to weigh in on issues affecting our lives.
Have we forgotten the meaning of Memorial Day? How have you been touched by someone who gave their life for our freedom? What do you hope we learn?
Unfortunately most major holidays are no longer celebrated or honored for the reasons that made them national days of observance.
Independence Day is a classic example of embracing the opportunity for a long weekend, yet giving little thought to the true meaning of the day. As Americans our respect for Memorial Day seems to be in direct proportion to the fear and anxiety that we are feeling at a particular point in time.
For several years after 9/11 most Americans felt very introspective when the Independence Day holiday was at hand. How many people upon seeing uniformed soldiers in public places would walk up to them, and say thank you, or extend a hand in friendship? The answer is -- far more than today.
If you have lost a loved one in the Armed Services, Independence Day carries a special meaning. For the rest of us, let's not forget all the people who have made the ultimate sacrifice and allowed us to pursue dreams and enjoy our lives.
About Pat Paciello
Pat retired at age 50 only to reinvent himself as an author! His book is called, "Has Anyone Seen My Reading Glasses? The Humorous and Slightly Informative Chronicles of a Retired Baby Boomer." Oh, he really had no intention to "work" again, but the financial crisis gave him nightmares of being forced back into the workplace. And when he began to research other books on retirement, he realized most were dull, dry and uninteresting, three things that Pat Paciello NEVER could be!
I'm going to stray from the stated theme. I have certainly known many military heroes such as Guy Garuthers, a co-pilot of mine at Eastern Airlines who was captured by the North Vietnamese the second time his fighter was shot down, and subsequently spent 5 1/2 years of torture in the Hanoi Hilton. His story is worthy of a book.
I have had the honor of flying with Bob Hooks, a World War II Navy ace whose exploits can be seen on certain segments of Victory at Sea captured by his gun cameras. I have known Eddie Rickenbacker, famous World War I ace. One of my favorite friends is Bob Hoover who after being shot down in his P-51 Mustang over Germany, not only escaped from his POW camp, but stole a German Messerschmidt and flew it to freedom!
I have known a personal friend of mine who returned from Vietnam as a Marine Recon with two silver and one bronze medal - a true war hero. I can even speak of my very own grandson, a Marine veteran of the Iraq war. These are the type of people I have had the honor of knowing and who make me strive to be a better human being. I want however, to remember a person who demonstrated an act of heroism that I personally witnessed.
It was a beautiful Sunday morning at the Dropzone at the Umatilla, Florida airport. A few of us advanced skydivers went up on a fun jump prior to the expected arrival of some students. One of the jumpers was a chap by the name of Mike Costello. He was the most experienced jumper/instructor at the Dropzone with some 8000 skydives to his credit. Although I was licensed as a Master Skydiver, the highest level license, Mike would often lecture me for pulling (deploying one's main parachute) too low. A Master Skydiver was allowed to pull much lower than other licensees, but was still required to deploy his main parachute at a minimum of 1800 feet. If you don't deploy at 1800 feet, the jumper has approximately 10 seconds to live. Being an adrenalin junkie, I would often pull much lower. I should have been mature enough to know better in that I was in my late 50s having not taken up the sport until the age of 55. I used to wear a gold skydiver around my neck and Mike would always jokingly warn me that if I bounced (the term for hitting the ground on a fatal skydive), he was going to stroll over to my body and claim the necklace.
We had fun on our skydive playing about the sky as we fell at 120 mph. When we landed, some students had arrived and Mike was scheduled to do a tandem jump (a jump in which the student is strapped to the chest of the instructor) with a fellow from the United Kingdom. The student paid to have a videographer photograph his jump. That maneuver is accomplished by a jumper with a video camera attached to his helmet who exits the aircraft at the same time as the student and instructor.
We sat about the patio chatting as Mike, the student, and the videographer left for their skydive. We heard the loud speaker announce that "jumpers are away," and we looked to the sky to watch them come down. Suddenly, we were aware that there was a problem. Instead of the extra large canopy of a tandem parachute, we saw that the canopy was not fully inflated and the jumpers were coming down at a high rate of speed. Apparently, Mike's main parachute had not deployed completely, and when he tried to cut it away (a malfunctioning main parachute is released with a mechanism so the reserve shoot can be deployed into clean air), it would not fully release. Mike's only hope at that point was to deploy his reserve and hope that the two parachutes did not become entangled. He did so, but the two parachutes were intertwined as Mike's descent continued at too high a rate of speed to land safely. Mike continued to struggle with the mess of nylon attempting to deal with the situation.
As we watched in horror and as the video clearly revealed, when it became apparent that there was nothing that could be done and impact with the ground was just moments away, Mike wrapped his arms around his passenger, and turned them such that his back was to the ground so that his body would absorb the impact first. The impact was horrible to watch, and both bodies lay motionless. Mike died on impact. His passenger was still alive, but there were few bones left unbroken in his body. I had just witnessed the most horrific scene but act of heroism, and it is something that I will always remember.
Mike was posthumously awarded citations for heroism both from the state of Florida and the United States Government. At his funeral, with tears streaming down my face, I went over to his widow, told her the story about Mike's intention of removing my necklace from my body should I have bounced, and gave it to her. To this day, she wears it as an ankle bracelet.
About 8 or 9 months later, we were sitting about the patio of the dropzone relaxing between jumps. A gentleman with an English accent came up to us an identified himself as the passenger on that fatal jump. He had apparently been in a coma for some time, had eventually been returned to England and had miraculously healed from the accident. He wanted to make it a point to come to Umatilla to thank everyone.
On occasion over the years, I have rode my motorcycle to the old dropzone which is now closed and grown over with weeds. I stand in the spot that Mike died and I thank him for being part of my life. What do I hope to learn? Re read the above piece - I think it is self evident.
About Sandy Scott
He's a retired airline pilot who decided, in his 60's, to try competitive cycling. A year later, he set a record for his age group! He was headed for victory in the 2005 Florida Senior games trials when he was nearly killed in a collision. He had a broken neck. Doctors told him he'd never ride again. Two years later, he was back! Sandy now owns the state record for fastest 5K by anyone over 60. He is the Florida state time trial and road race champion and he's the first person in the state older than 65 to run under 33 minutes in the 20K time trial.
My real father died in a war, and my second dad saw active duty.
I hate the concept of war--but I believe it's inherent in the nature of men (not so sure about women) to fight. I don't believe it will ever change--just the weapons change.
Too many wars are about power/or the feeling of powerlessness and economics/or the feeling of impoverishment (religion is often the "excuse").
Obviously some wars were fought to fight evil and atrocities. WW II was such a war.
I definitely feel it's important to remember all those that gave their lives--so that we can live ours.
About Sherrie Mathieson
Sherrie has worked in film, television and commercials, and she has
clientele of all ages and all personal styles. But it’s her unique way
of looking at baby boomers that sets her apart from all the rest. And
now, she has done it again. She’s followed up her first book, "Forever Cool" with the must-read, "Steal This Style," which is full of ways women can borrow cues from the younger generation in a flattering way.
I don't believe everyone has forgotten the true meaning of Independence Day. We have lived all over the country, and I can't remember any instance where there was not an Independence Day Observance.
The most memorable was in a little town in New Hampshire, where everyone gathered at the town Square and marched together to the cemetery to place a wreath at the Veteran's Memorial.
Also, we are blessed to be living in The Villages, where they have a very moving ceremony every year. Having graduated from the US Naval Academy, I know several who have given their life for our country. For that we will be forever grateful!
About Joe Neal
Joe and his wife, Carol Neal have been married for over 40 years and their relationship is as strong as their bodies. The two have found great joy and companionship in working out and competing together. A former college athlete, Joe now relishes the opportunity get out and test himself in as many triathlons as he and his wife can enter! The two travel around the country and sometimes further to compete, strengthening their relationship and enriching their lives.
Shirley W. Mitchell
In my opinion people over 50 have a deep feeling of gratitude for the people who have guarded the freedom of America with their lives! The younger generation however seems to be preoccupied with technology, economic crisis, and living their lives.
I had 3 uncles who fought in Germany during World War II. My extended family lived on a farm. We waited at the mailbox by the road everyday hoping for a letter to let us know they were ok. My uncles, Sheril, Willie Gay, and Albert were all in fox holes in Germany fighting for our freedom. Albert came home with bullets still in his body. Willie Gay came home with nerve problems. The younger one, Sheril, was affected the least.
I have not personally known anyone who lost their life. But, the lives of my three uncles were changed.
About Shirley W. Mitchell
An unexpected divorce later in life shook Shirley W Mitchell into a journey of self discovery. What evolved from it was a more positive approach to her future and the knowledge that she had the power to help choose the course it would take. Always looking ahead, she was writing about, and promoting, a "Positive Aging Lifestyle" before most were even thinking about it. Her life's passion and purpose is to promote "Positive Aging and Vitality in Health". Known today as "The Golden Egg of Aging", she is a writer and radio host who focuses on issues relevant to baby boomers and women everywhere.
I hope we learn that men and women who protect our country through the military should be honored with great respect! Memorial Day should be celebrated with Gusto!
My brother was a Navy pilot. He flew F-18s and was killed in a training accident in Utah.
I have a picture in my office of him in an evening flight in his F-18 in my office as well as an up close picture of him in the cockpit.
I am reminded every day of what I have lost to keep this country free. I don't think everyone appreciates what the men and women in the military risk on a daily basis whether in combat or just in training.
I still have to stop myself from crying every time I hear the national anthem.
About Karen Einsidler
She was leading what appeared to be a storybook life until she was diagnosed with cancer. The mother of triplets was an attorney and active in the master athletes world when she underwent a double mastectomy. Rather than quitting, she dove back into competitive swimming and bounced back to return to the World Masters Championships. To Karen, giving up was never an option.
Remembering the sacrifices of those who went before us is as important as all the other things we teach our children. As I get older, I'm sure I've become as boring as a lot of other seniors when I bring up past history.
I once heard a statement that I believe to have great merit, "If you pay no attention to the past you have no heart, if you pay no attention to the future, you have no mind". I'm sure that is not an exact quote, but close.
The other day I was giving a presentation to a room full of engineers, mostly young folks. I mentioned the style of presentation I like to use when my business partner and I work together as a "Huntley-Brinkley" style. No one in the audience knew who Huntley-Brinkley was.
I turned it into a joke by saying we now use the Abbott and Costello style and they didn't get that either. Does anyone know who Audie Murphy was? How short are our memories and do we pass anything along to the young?
My gosh, when a very good friend of mine told me about his 23rd mission over Meesburg, Germany and all the events of that mission, how three of his crew were killed and the radioman was blown out of the aircraft and survived, I wonder at how few of his friends and relatives know or even care.
Two days ago at the Fly Day at Paine Field, I overheard a gentleman tell the pilot of the P-47 that was about to fly, that the particular aircraft was his aircraft at the closing days of the war. He said he turned 21 only eight days after VE day.
What stories he must have to tell his grandchildren, yet, do they care? Do they listen or are they busy texting their friends and tuning out grandpa and his corny stories?
I'm a firm believer that remembering the past will help our society make better decisions for the future. My parents, grandparents and so on, have significant histories of their own and I try to make sure my kids and their offspring know about it, whether they like it or not.
About Ed Shadle
Now in his late 60s, he is a speed demon who's attempting to steal something the British have had for 20 years -- the world land speed record. And he plans on doing it with a jet-powered car he created himself. Shadle, who worked with IBM for 30 years, created the car from an old fighter plane. The North American Eagle is an old Lockheed F-104 Starfighter that he modified to not lift off the ground. Shadle says the car should be able to reach 800 mph.
I think we've definitely lost track of the true meaning of Independence Day, and I'm glad to take a moment to reflect upon this poignant question.
I nearly married a young man two different times whom I'd known in college. We didn't tie the knot at either juncture as we both realized that we were two opposites: he, a pretty conservative Yankee; me a wild woman from the "Left Coast"--California. He was, however, a truly wonderful and honorable person and virtually the only man I knew from my years at Harvard who volunteered to serve during the Vietnam War. Everyone else I knew was doing their best to avoid the draft--and with my encouragement, as I thought that war the dreadful experience it was. But Jeffrey had been at school on a scholarship and felt he "owed" it to everyone to "give back" and so joined ROTC at the height of the anti-war fervor. Even as out-spoken then as I am now, I nevertheless respected him totally for the path he chose.
Jeff, sadly, experienced the worst-of-the-worst while a forward observer for his unit, a lieutenant going out under "friendly fire," scoping out the next hill, or the next valley, or the next patch of jungle where it might be "sorta safe" to advance his platoon. He was caught in deadly cross fire at numerous famous battles of that war and somehow survived when soldiers to the right and left of him were killed. When his deployments were up, he left Asia on a Friday and found himself the next Monday driving a cab at night to pay for law school, which he attended during the day. There was no counseling or preparation for this abrupt transition.
And, needless to say, no one had ever heard of Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome back then--or of the deadly aftermath of Agent Orange, the chemical the American military sprayed all over Vietnam. A year into law school, Jeff hit the stone wall, quit, and enrolled at the Harvard Divinity School. Once graduated, he ended up in another profession altogether, never quite fitting into his post-war environment. Then he got a serious cancer linked to Agent Orange and spent the next thirteen years fighting it...eventually dying of the disease--but struggling to force the Power-That-Be to recognize the havoc that chemical had caused in the lives of American service men and women.
Lest anybody think my California roots produced a bunch of "ant-war kooks," my husband's father served in the Pacific in World War, island-hopping in pursuit of the Japanese aggressors in that conflict. My own husband was a distinguished naval officer floating around in dangerous waters off the coast of China Beach and the Mekong Delta--despite his misgivings about the wisdom of engaging in this particular war. My brother was a Chief Petty Officer in the US Navy for twenty-seven years, serving on destroyers and aircraft carriers in the waters off Vietnam, way before any of us ever heard of that country.
These are the people who truly know what it means to serve their country in ways that don't always look like a recruiting poster. To me, their lives and the repercussions that inevitably flow from serving in the military personify the meaning of "sacrificing for your country." Their experiences remind us of why we must not lose sight of Independence Day as the sum total of what it means to wage war, and how careful we must be as a nation before engaging in such a life-changing activity.
About Ciji Ware
She is an expert and author specializing in baby boomer books. She has a lot to say about the downturn in the housing market. Her latest book "Rightsizing Your Life" has become a must-read for the boomer generation. Ciji is one of GB's favorite guests. Saying she's multitalented is an understatement. She was a reporter/commentator on radio and television in Los Angeles for over 20 years. She's the first female Harvard grad to serve as president of the Harvard Alumni Association. She's also written three novels. Old time radio fans will recognize her last name. Her father, Harlan Ware was one of the main writers of the long-time classic One Man's Family.
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