A few years ago after speaking in Delaware, I arrived back at Baltimore Washington International Airport to catch a flight home. As I walked into the terminal, I immediately heard an announcement saying that a large number of veterans were traveling back to Columbus, Ohio, and would be passing by the counter area. What ensued was an incredibly memorable and patriotic moment as passengers and airport employees stopped what they were doing and began to applaud in unison while veterans paraded by on their way to the Southwest Airline terminal. Thankfully, I was not only flying Southwest, but was pleased to see that I was headed to the gate right next to theirs. What I was able to experience in the next hour I will treasure for many years to come, as I was blessed with the honor of spending some quality time with these brave American heroes.
I discovered that this group was traveling with the “Flights of Honor” organization, which makes possible an action-packed day in Washington, D.C. visiting war memorials. Arlington Cemetery and other memorials were visited, which share with the world our heartfelt love and deep respect for those who have courageously served this great nation. I talked with as many as I could, hearing their stories, absorbing their memories and posing for pictures with as many of America’s finest.
Just before they boarded, the Southwest gate agent led us all in a rousing rendition of “God Bless America.” Those Southwest employees are the best. As they boarded the plane and I watched it taxi away for its quick flight over to Port Columbus, it dawned on me: That jet contains the brawn, the guts, the character and the American spirit that has brought us to this moment in history. These brave men and women have fought longer and harder than most of us have ever known for freedom’s cause. It was then I choked back tears as I considered, Do they really know how grateful we are? They really should know. They should know that we realize our lives would be different if it weren’t for them. We could be speaking another language, living far beneath the privileges we enjoy today. We could be destitute, struggling to just get through the seasons with our families intact, daily fearful for the futures of our children and grandchildren. They should know that patriotism is still alive and well, and we are more thankful than ever for each and every one who, without argument or question, just did what needed to be done, and in so doing, embody for us this exceptional nation’s rich heritage inspiring us all. They really should know.
On June 6, 1984, standing on the very spot on the northern coast of France where Allied soldiers had stormed ashore to liberate Europe from the yoke of Nazi tyranny, President Ronald Reagan spoke to an audience of D-Day veterans and world leaders. They were gathered at the site of the U.S. Ranger Monument at Pointe du Hoc. What follows here are a number of President Reagan’s remarks from that day:
“Gentlemen, I look at you and I think of the words of Stephen Spender’s poem. You are men who in your “lives fought for life … and left the vivid air signed with your honor. Forty summers have passed since the battle that you fought here. You were young the day you took these cliffs; some of you were hardly more than boys, with the deepest joys of life before you. Yet, you risked everything here. Why? Why did you do it? What impelled you to put aside the instinct for self-preservation and risk your lives to take these cliffs? What inspired all the men of the armies that met here? We look at you, and somehow we know the answer. It was faith and belief; it was loyalty and love. The men of Normandy had faith that what they were doing was right, faith that they fought for all humanity, faith that a just God would grant them mercy on this beachhead or on the next. You all knew that some things are worth dying for. All of you loved liberty. All of you were willing to fight tyranny, and you knew the people of your countries were behind you.” He closed by saying, “Strengthened by their courage, heartened by their value [valor], and borne by their memory, let us continue to stand for the ideals for which they lived and died.”
President Lincoln once reminded us that through their deeds, the dead of battle have spoken more eloquently for themselves than any of the living ever could. But we can only honor them by rededicating ourselves to the cause for which they gave a “last full measure of devotion.” Freedom always costs someone something. Freedom is never free. There is always a price that must be paid. May we always remember the price and thank God for our spiritual freedom and forgiveness. And may we dedicate ourselves to keep on paying the price so that freedom and forgiveness might be enjoyed for generations to come. They really should know, and we should be the ones to tell them.
Tim Throckmorton is the former executive pastor for Plymouth Heights Church of the Nazarene in Franklin Furnace, Ohio, and Portsmouth First Church of the Nazarene. He is currently senior pastor at Crossroads Church in Circleville, Ohio.