Opinion

Sharing freedom’s stories | Reichert

Looking down the National Mall in Washington, D.C., war memorials are framed by the hundreds of trees rising up around them. These memorials, erected in honor of those who served our nation, are a breathtaking reminder of the events that crafted our country’s history.

The battles that were waged and the sacrifices made allow us to enjoy freedom today. And in the granite wall that reflects onto a pool at the Korean War Veterans Memorial, the phrase “freedom is not free,” reminds us that freedom is a privilege we enjoy because of those soldiers who went to battle not just on the Korean peninsula, but at Normandy, in Vietnam, and even on our own soil over 200 years ago.

As Memorial Day passes and we begin the unofficial start of summer, the nation pauses together as we honor those who have given their lives for our freedom. It is a day of unity, a day to put differences aside and to cherish the liberties presented to us through our Constitution and defended by so many throughout our history.

Not long ago, I spoke to a group of students about the workings of Congress. As I spoke about the need to protect the Constitution and this nation, the student remarked, “But we will always have freedom.” Her comment spoke volumes.

Our memorials, not just in Washington, D.C., but right here in our communities, such as the Memorial Wall in Milton, are critical remembrances of the sacrifices courageous men and women made to preserve our freedom. They are also a gathering place to remember freedom’s stories. Our veterans’ recollections can give us some understanding of all they have done for our country and what it meant to serve during those historic moments of triumph and loss.

Perhaps the most revered memorials to our veterans are the cemeteries where so many honorable soldiers lie. Each gravestone is a memorial for someone who bravely served. Last Congress, I authored legislation that expanded veterans’ rights to receive government-furnished grave markers and headstones to honor their courageous service, ensuring that each veteran has an individual memorial. With the passage of this measure, all veterans can receive headstones or grave markers recognizing their service at no cost to their families, including those who were previously ineligible to receive them.

As we remember those who served, we must also support those who continue to fight for freedom today, who have served and continue to serve in our Armed Forces. There’s a veteran with a story serving in my office. One of the first chosen to serve in the new House Wounded Warriors Program, Zack is a veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and is working to help other veterans through the bureaucratic red tape that they sometimes confront when dealing with the federal government. He’s been there, done that, and understands the struggles. I’ve also hosted three Veterans’ Resource Fairs across the 8th district to connect veterans with the many benefits and services available to them. I am excited to host another later this year so look for more information to come.

The memorial sculptures, stones and walls we create are tangible, but the accompanying stories are unforgettable. Our children and grandchildren need to hear these stories to understand the true price of freedom, that we haven’t “always” had freedom and that many still fight to defend our freedom each and every day. As you enjoy the events of the summer, take time to hear from those who were on the front lines, who also tell the stories of those heroes who gave their all, who cannot tell their own stories because they did not make it home. Freedom has a cost. If we take the time to listen, to remember the stories of those who have served, only then we can begin to comprehend why freedom is not free.

Congressman Dave Reichert, R, of Auburn, is a member of the U.S. House of Representatives and represents Washington’s Eighth Congressional District. Reichert is a veteran of the Air Force Reserves.

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