What a beautiful word. A gift endowed upon us. Our birthright as American citizens. Freedom has a very special meaning to me; I know what the price of freedom is. It doesn’t come without a very high cost. Every man, woman, and child who lies their head down each night in peace does so because some other American, at some time, laid down their life for them. I know this because I lost my dad in Iraq on May 2, 2004. He was a Navy Seabee sent to help rebuild a country. He was killed, along with six of his fellow comrades, when their camp was mortared.
I’ll never forget the day the Naval Chief and Chaplain showed up at our front door. I was only seven at the time, but the words about to be uttered would change my life forever. The Chief saluted my mom and me and said, “The United States of America regrets to inform you…” My mom started to cry, and I knew something very bad had happened. I was right.
So much tyranny has been fought against throughout the years, from our WWI warriors to the young soldiers of WWII sent overseas to save us from an inconceivable evil. They are truly “The Greatest Generation.” Sadly, we watch as many of them depart every day. Years later, the Vietnam generation heeded their nation’s command. On September 11, 2001, our beloved nation was attacked. Today we continue to fight for our most sacred possession: the right to live as a free people.
With freedom comes responsibility. Envied by many, challenged by some, we must never become complacent. We have a duty to preserve our way of life. It’s how we repay our debt to our fathers and forefathers. It’s ironic how people perceive freedom. So many take this precious gift for granted, yet there are many others who are deeply grateful.
Over the years I’ve had the opportunity to meet some very special people. Some have been celebrities or military figures, but many have been regular people who just “get it.” I’ve met many other kids like myself and their families. It grieves me when I go to events such as TAPS, Arlington, dedications, and memorials; there are many people who’ve lost someone who can never be replaced. Because of my dad’s death, I’ve traveled to places and met people I very well may never have met otherwise. But I would trade all of that in a moment to get my dad back, because none of that can fill the gap left in my heart when he died.
My dad and I shared many great memories that never will be forgotten. Although I’m really sad sometimes, I’m thankful to have known him. Some children were born afterward and never got that chance. When I see the flag waving or hear “The Star-Spangled Banner,” pledge my allegiance to the flag or honor those on the 4th of July, I feel a real sense of pride. I truly hope our nation never forgets, because I know I never will – FREEDOM IS NOT FREE!
Brandi Anderson was an 8th grade student when she wrote this in 2011. Her father, Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Mike Anderson, was killed by enemy fire while serving in Iraq in 2004 and was the inspiration behind her message.