I remember vividly being five years old at my grandfather's home, sitting in his den, holding a shining gold medal with a blue ribbon that extended from both sides, so that it could be worn like a necklace. I had no idea what I was holding. I had no idea of it's significance.
All I knew was that my grandfather was once a soldier in a war. He was hurt in that war and received this medal. Sometimes you experience a moment that you will not fully understand for years. This was one of those moments for me. I had no idea that I was holding the Congressional Medal of Honor. I didn't know it had been given to my grandfather faster than it was given to anyone before or after him. I had no idea what "above and beyond the call of duty" stood for. I had no idea I was staring at America's highest honor.
My grandfather looked at me as I looked at his medal. He said two things that I'll always remember, even though I wouldn't understand their value for years to come. He looked at me and said...
"Freedom isn't free"
As I looked up to him the sentence took on new meaning. He was horribly burned on his right side. His arm fused in place. One side of his face was horribly scarred. When he would stand and walk sometimes he would grown in pain. All of this was because of a superhuman act of heroism. In an air raid on April 12th, 1945 he took a phosphorus bomb, which had ignited right in front of him, picked it up like a football and carried it to the front of his B29 bomber, throwing it out of the copilot window so the plane could pull from it's dive just seconds from disaster.
And looking up to him at the age of five, I caught a glimpse of the price of freedom. The life I would enjoy in America was bought with a price. A price paid for by millions of Americans. I learned to be grateful.
"I am no hero..."
The second thing my grandfather said confused me. He said he wasn't a hero. Even though he was give our nation's highest award. Even though there are buildings and roads named after him all over the world. Even though he had met many presidents, like Harry Truman who said "I'd rather have the Medal of Honor than be President." He still didn't consider himself a hero.
"I'm no hero. The boys that didn't come home... They are the heroes." This was his perspective. He didn't consider himself a hero because he got to come home. Those that gave the ultimate sacrifice, that paid the ultimate price, they were the heroes. They were the ones to honor and remember.
So on this Memorial Day I am remembering that the life we have been given to enjoy was bought and paid for by the blood of patriots. It comes at great cost. So the question is, what do we plan to do with it? To whom much is given, after all, much is required.
By Jon Erwin.