Give thanks to the men, women who make our freedom possible 

This holiday season, consider the gift of freedom our veterans and today’s troops have given our nation — communities, families and each of us individually.

It is a reality that veterans organizations work tirelessly to honor.

For instance, every November, American Veterans Centers brings heroes of wars past and present together for a weekend recollecting freedom’s price.

This year’s conference, sponsored by The Washington Examiner, featured legends from the Doolittle Raiders; the “Band of Brothers”; the Tuskegee Airmen; Major League Baseball players who fought in World War II, including recently deceased Hall of Famer Bob Feller; and many decorated veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

Their stories were profound.

Ed “Babe” Heffron recalled the day he and his team parachuted into Holland to liberate the Dutch from Hitler’s brutal totalitarian grip.

His was the famous “Band of Brothers” immortalized in the HBO miniseries based on Stephen Ambrose’s book “Band of Brothers: E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne from Normandy to Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest.”

He will never forget that Dutchman who compared losing his freedom to when his mother lost her bike, their sole means of transport. “When you hear the word ‘freedom,’” this grateful soul told Heffron, “think about losing it. It’s when you lose it that it means everything.”

Freedom? All Heffron and his buddies could think about while flying to battle was, “What the hell am I doing up here? I could be back home having a soda or standing on the corner with the guys.”

He grew up fast, though. “When you saw the faces of those Dutch people and the children, you knew why you were there,” Heffron said. “I’m telling you, if you ever get in that predicament, you’ll know why you’re there. Just the look on their faces was everything.”

Marine Col. Harvey C. “Barney” Barnum, who received the Medal of Honor for valor in Vietnam, emphasized that “we’re still at war” and offered “a prayer for those soldiers, seamen, airmen and marines who are on point tonight.”
He is right. We should pray for those who are fighting, or have fought, in Iraq and Afghanistan. We should especially pray for those who have paid the ultimate price — heroes such as Lt. Michael P. Murphy, a Navy SEAL who died in Afghanistan on June 28, 2005, trying to save his team on a mission to find a Taliban leader.

Murphy’s father, Daniel, recounted the private Oval Office meeting he and wife Maureen had with President George W. Bush on Oct. 22, 2007, the day their firstborn son was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor — the first casualty of the present wars to be so honored.

Afterward, according to the family, Bush broke protocol and pulled them aside. He told them, “Murphs, you did good, but I ... thought I did even better because I had Michael right next to my heart.”

This week, let us return the gift of freedom Michael and his fellow troops have won for us by praying for them and offering tangible assistance to veterans organizations such as American Veterans Center, USO, Veterans of Foreign Wars, American Legion and the Wounded Warrior Project — among many others working to say, “Thank you.”

Mary Claire Kendall served as the special assistant to the assistant secretary for health in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services from 1989 to 1993.

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