That song. That brief, but haunting song, “Find The Cost Of Freedom.”
The old Crosby, Stills and Nash classic will forever be associated with Memorial Day. Its single verse tells the powerful story of men and women who did battle for this country’s freedoms and lost their lives in the process.
My son is in his second week of basic combat training with the U.S. Army at Ft. Jackson, S.C. I still don’t understand everything behind his decision to enter the military. I never served, but I have always had the utmost respect for the men and women who wear the uniform. I’ve interviewed and met hundreds of former and active military and my admiration for what they do knows no bounds. The personal sacrifice they have made for their country is beyond description.
For some, the sacrifice was ultimate. They paid with their lives. “Find the cost of freedom, buried in the ground.”
As we observe Memorial Day weekend, where do our thoughts lie? Are we thinking about heading north to open the summer cottage? Are we thinking of backyard barbecues, the long weekend that traditionally ushers in the summer season? That’s what I usually find myself thinking about.
Although in past years it has become my habit to join the local veterans and the Dracut American Legion on Memorial Day morning, as they travel to various locations around town, offering a 21-gun salute and taps at the Richardson Cemetery, the Dinley Street Veterans Monument and the Oakland Cemetery on Mammoth Road, where Army Specialist Mathew Boule of Dracut is buried.
Boule, the son of Sue and Leo Boule, was 22 when he was killed in Iraq on April 2, 2003, Dracut’s first military casualty overseas in the war on terror. Before him was Michael Monahan, Dracut’s first casualty of the Vietnam War. Before that there was Korea, where my father-in-law Peter Bauer served valiantly. He seldom speaks about the atrocities he saw there as a young man.
I think of the late Henri Champagne of Dracut, who told me that on the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, as the sky above turned dark with Japanese war planes, he stood aboard the USS Phelps stationed in Pearl Harbor and loaded artillery shells into the ship’s guns. He was in his dress whites when the attack came, and he remembered the oil and grease from the shells soiling his uniform. On a normal day he would have been severely reprimanded for that.
“I got behind one of the machine guns on deck and opened fire,” he said in 2005. “I hit one of the planes and watched it crash into the mountains. It was a terrible day. It was a horrible day. We didn’t have a fighting chance.”
Close to 100 men and women from Massachusetts have given their lives for their country while serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. We’ve read about Lance Cpl. Andrew Zabierek of Chelmsford, who died in combat on May 21, 2004 at the age of 25. Sgt. Daniel Gionet, whose family is from Lowell, was 23 when he died in the service of his country on June 4, 2006. Marine Cpl. Nick King died thousands of miles away from his Tyngsboro home on June 25, 2006, when he was hit by small arms fire while maintaining a security perimeter in Fallujah, Iraq.
And there are more. Countless more.
So at some point this weekend, when enjoying the company of friends while watching the annual parade roll down Main Street, pause and reflect. If you’re so persuaded, offer a prayer for those in the military, even those who are just starting out, like my son.
Dennis Shaughnessey’s e-mail is email@example.com.