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Thursday, Mar. 30, 2017

Freedom isn't free

Posted Tuesday, July 3, 2012, at 9:07 AM

I certainly agree that freedom is not free.

As a military wife for 21 years, I saw a lot and learned a lot during those years of being associated with military life.

As a new recruit, my husband was soon assigned as a gunner on a B-29 during the Korean War.

He said half the young men in his training class were killed in the war.

Later he was trained in a newer aircraft, the KC-135 air refueling tanker. His job in Strategic Air Command was to refuel B-52 bombers and other combat jets involved in the Vietnam War.

Although he was somewhat removed from the more dangerous zones, his job was stressful as he maneuvered a metal boom that transferred fuel from his aircraft to another while in midair. Lying belly down in the boom pod in the tail of the plane, he would unload the fuel.

As a military family we moved from one military base to another. For several of those years, my husband was stationed at Blytheville Air Force Base.

I talked with several of the wives whose husbands were deployed from the air base in Blytheville.

One of the wives and her lieutenant husband did not support the Vietnam War but, nevertheless, he flew the missions. It was on one of those raids that his B-52 bomber aircraft from Blytheville Air Force Base was shot down by a surface-to-air missile. The crew was forced to abandon the damaged aircraft. The lieutenant was reported missing in action. (Within a week, another B-52 bomber aircraft from the Blytheville base was shot down, too.)

Shortly after that, I spoke with the lieutenant's wife at her home on the air base. Her baby girl had just learned to walk and was toddling around the living room, unaware that her daddy wouldn't be coming home. The wife was devastated as she tried desperately to find out details concerning her husband's fate.

Did he die on the plane? Was he able to parachute? Was he a prisoner? Was he wounded? All she knew was that he was reported missing in action.

Other crewmen on the disabled plane were able to parachute safely but were captured by the Viet Cong. They were placed in the infamous "Hilton Hotel" prison and kept there for years. Eventually they were released when the war ended in 1973. The crewmen returned to Blytheville Air Force Base as heroes and were given a rousing welcome by family members, friendly spectators and townspeople when they arrived home.

Many returning Vietnam soldiers did not receive a welcome greeting because of the unpopular war.

I talked with one widow in Gosnell whose husband had died in the Vietnam War. At the time she and her teenage sons were living in base housing. After his death, she was allowed to remain in the house for three months, then she had to give up her housing and move off base.

She was grief stricken that she and her sons would be required to move. But that was the rule.

Eventually they moved out of state.

Almost daily, I read personal stories from widows who have lost their husbands in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Many of them are members of Gold Star Wives of America.

Many are left with babies or young children to raise alone. And with disrupted lives.

One woman describes her dead husband as "the love of my life."

Another was left with teenage children to raise on a limited income.

Another widow went to college and got a doctorate degree.

Their lives were forever altered by the devastating loss of their spouses.

On July 4th we should pause and remember those men and women who have died for our freedom, and we should remember those left behind.

There are many wounded soldiers in veterans hospitals who are suffering from wounds and diseases they received while fighting for this country.

We must not forget them as the July 4th celebration takes place all over our country. There will be parades and pageants, cookouts, reunions, fireworks and many other activities.

Let our flags fly freely as we remember those who sacrificed for freedom.

The words "Freedom Is Not Free" are engraved into one wall at the Korean War Veterans Memorials in Washington, D.C.

Let's not forget the supreme sacrifice of so many of our soldiers.

No, freedom is not free.

It never was.

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From these hills
By Peggy Johnson
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