My uncle Mel passed away after living a wonderful life. He was one of those brave souls who fought in World War II and was lucky to make it home. He fought in the Battle of the Bulge and was a member of 87th Infantry Division that came up from the south on the west side of Bastogne. He was a lieutenant who was a company commander because the army was short of officers at the time.
He once told us of an experience where his commanding officer, a captain, ordered him and another company to take a hill where a suspected sniper nest was located. There was a valley that gently ascended until it reached the top of the hill. As he led his company up the middle of the valley, he began to have a very uneasy feeling. It dawned on him that where they were headed was subject to perfect grazing fire. “Grazing fire” refers to the fact that bullets sprayed down on them from the top of the hill would follow a course of about three feet off of the ground all the way down the hill. Anyone attempting to come up the hill would be easily shot and killed.
About half way up the hill, he decided to disobey orders and stop their ascent of the hill and go around the side of the valley and take the top of the hill from the back side. The other company commander disagreed and decided to continue the frontal assault of the hill. My uncle’s company was successful in taking the hill and capturing the sniper nest only after the snipers had killed everyone in the other unit. Although my uncle was chastised by command for disobeying orders, he was also awarded a citation for saving his company and taking the hill. His decision was the correct course of action in this situation.
This week in preparation for the celebration for the Fourth of July, I told my extended family Uncle Mel’s story at a family meeting and asked them, “Of all the freedoms that you enjoy, which do you value the most?” Here are their responses.
1. Freedom of choice. Of all the family members that I asked this question, this was the most frequent response. Our freedom to choose is to make a number of choices for which we are responsible. In other words, when we make a choice, we are then responsible for the consequences of that choice. This freedom allows us to answer for our actions. Everyone responded that they would rather have this freedom than allowing others to decide for them and then force them to do what they may not want to do.
2. Freedom of opportunity. A number of family members indicated that they loved the fact that they could make decisions about their future and then could work to achieve their dreams and goals through their own industry and commitment to what was most important to them.
3. Freedom of worship. Being able to worship who, how, where, and what they may was a preference of a few others. They were grateful that religious freedom was within the scope of the freedoms that everyone enjoys. And that everyone should have that opportunity without the ridicule and criticism of those who may not hold the same beliefs that they do.
4. Freedom of speech. I was surprised when my 13 year-old daughter said this was her most valued freedom. She indicated that although we are free to speak as we may desire, there seems to be more and more negative consequences that come because we may not believe or support certain causes that others do. She indicated that she hoped that there would be more tolerance and understanding of those with differing viewpoints. I was surprised by her sensitivity toward this freedom as a rather young person.
5. Freedom of association. This was expressed by my seven-year old daughter who referred to this freedom as the opportunity to play with her friends. Although this sounded so simple, after reflection, I thought that there are some places in the world where people or groups of people are not allowed to associate with those who are judged to be different. Being able to be with people of our choice is a freedom that we sometimes take for granted.
6. Freedom to work. Some in their early 20’s mentioned the opportunity to work in order to succeed. I remember a quote from Thomas Edison I heard in my youth, wherein he stated, “Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.” I remembered my own optimism when I first heard this statement coming from one of the smartest individuals to ever live on the planet. I began to believe that perhaps it really was possible to accomplish one’s dreams if one was willing to sacrifice and work for what one wanted. I thought this sentiment was admirable coming from a younger person, when so many today seem to want to avoid the difficulty of sacrifice necessary to succeed.
7. Freedom to learn. In addition to the important freedoms mentioned above, I wanted to add this one to our list. I have noticed that many of the lessons in life seem to be repeatedly offered and taught until we learn the lesson that is necessary for us to learn. Some of those lessons can be quite painful, but once we learn them, they shape our character and our ability to lift and help others which strengthens and improves the quality of life for everyone.
There are many more freedoms that are worth our consideration. However, you must decide for yourself which freedom you will chose to celebrate this coming holiday. Wherever you are or in whatever country you find yourself, there are freedoms that are worth identifying and cherishing. I know that Uncle Mel’s freedom to choose and be responsible for his actions saved himself and the lives of others who impacted others within his generation. We should be appreciative of our freedoms and do all within our power to protect them for ourselves and others.