Opinion: Finding Meaning

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Freedom Isn’t Free

Freedom isn’t free, someone has to pay for it. Because we’re not free to hold Laguna’s traditional Heisler Park Memorial Day tribute to America’s patriots, I reread two favorite books. The first was Shelby Foote’s excellent account of the Civil War Battle of Gettysburg, “Stars in Their Courses.” Gettysburg, coincident with Grant’s victory at Vicksburg, was the turning point of the Civil War. Lincoln memorialized the battle and the war’s purpose with just ten sentences in the Gettysburg Address. The second book was Stephen Ambrose’s “Band of Brothers,” that inspired a TV miniseries. It told the story of Easy Company, an exceptional WWII company among many that parachuted into occupied France to kick off D-Day. I loaded up on heroes.

We’re a polarized nation today, blue versus red, “where ignorant armies clash by night,” to quote Matthew Arnold. Locked in coronavirus positions, our leaders are slow to use new facts to improve policy. On this Memorial Day, we should look back to WWII and the strength that came from working together in common purpose.

I researched what my extended family had done in WWII and learned that everyone—no exceptions—did something to win the war. My grandfather, an electrician, built military bases. My grandmothers served on them. The aunts modified warplanes, in the tradition of Rosie the Riveter. The base personnel department grabbed my mom (she was young and could type and take shorthand); Dad had a disabling condition so he served as a quality inspector for war materials.

My uncles were in the fighting war. One, like Easy Company, parachuted into France the night before D-Day. Years later he told of looking down on a moonlit English Channel and seeing thousands of warships, all headed where he and his band of brothers were to land, and taking comfort that help was on the way. Primed for battle, his first contact was a warm welcoming hug from a French farmwife. The farmer mobilized the paratroopers by donating an old truck. My uncle earned a medal for gallantly exposing himself to enemy fire but later acknowledged that in the adrenalin of his first battle, he hadn’t noticed anyone shooting at him.

Another uncle served in California’s 40th Infantry Division, guarding the coast around Laguna Beach while waiting for orders to the invasion of Europe. He gained a lifelong affection for Laguna when an older couple welcomed him into their home and treated him as a son. A third uncle joined the Marines and participated in the biggest Pacific Theatre assault, the Battle of Okinawa.

It appears our nation hasn’t totally lost that fighting spirit. I read that Elon Musk defied the coronavirus lockdown by reopening his Fremont Tesla assembly plant, that Atwater declared itself a business “sanctuary city” inviting people to return to work while taking sensible precautions, and that Coalinga declared all its businesses “essential.” We’re taking back our Constitutional rights. It’s true. Freedom isn’t free, someone has to pay for it. There’s meaning in that.

Bio:  Skip fell in love with Laguna on a ‘50s surfing trip.  He’s a student of Laguna history and the author of “Loving Laguna: A Local’s Guide to Laguna Beach.”  Email:  [email protected]

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