VETERANS DAY: ‘Our freedom comes at a steep price’
Like the veterans being honored, Wednesday’s weather forced Veteran’s Day event organizers to improvise, adapt, and overcome.
The event, scheduled to take place at Florence Veterans Park was relocated to a conference room on the lower level of the Florence Center. The guest speaker for the well-attended event was University of South Carolina President Robert L. Caslen. At the conclusion of the event, a monument to the USS Arizona − sunk by the Japanese during their attack on Pearl Harbor – was unveiled at Florence Veterans Park. The monument is made from the bulwark of the ship.
Caslen, a retired U.S. Army lieutenant general with 43 years of service to our country, offered an inspiring message on the sacrifice and dedication to service displayed by military veterans.
“Our freedom comes at a steep price,” said Caslen. “It is secured only through the blood and sacrifice of those brave men and women willing to confront the dangers of this world to protect our values and way of life.”
He said patriotism flows in the blood of veterans.
“If you ever have the opportunity to witness a veteran as they recite the pledge of allegiance or face the flag during the Star-Spangled Banner, just watch them out of the corner of your eye,” said Caslen. “The words are alive to them. The bond created between them and their country represented by that flag is indelible.”
He reflected on the Academy Award winning film, “Saving Private Ryan.” The film follows the events of a group of World War II soldiers sent to retrieve a soldier who’s three brothers have been killed in action.
“We see the action through the eyes of Capt. James Miller, played by actor Tom Hanks,” Caslen explained. “Through the film he leads a search party to find Private Ryan. By the end of the film, Capt. Miller and most of his men have been mortally wounded. As the captain dies, he grabs the collar of Private Ryan, pulls him close to his face, and in his dying words he says, “Earn this. Live a good life. Earn this. In other words, men have died for you. Live a life worthy of such sacrifice.”
At the end of the movie, a much older Ryan is making a trip to a graveyard in Normandy. He falls to his knees at the headstone of Capt. Miller. In tears he says, “I’ve lived my life the best I could. I hope I’ve earned it.”
“Today we celebrate the service and sacrifice of those who have served our nation. Each veteran’s service is no less than what was laid on the altar of freedom by their predecessors,” said Caslen.
Caslen also shared some stories from his own personal experience.
The first was of Pvt. Brendan Marrocco. While serving in Iraq in 2008, Caslen watched as Marrocco receives 56 pints of blood. His vehicle exploded after triggering a roadside bomb on Easter Sunday. Marrocco lost all four limbs in the explosion.
“Soldiers were lined up all night just to donate a pint of blood to save his life,” Caslen said. “We didn’t know if Brendan would make it.”
Calsen said six weeks later he stopped by Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C., to see Marrocco. Caslen said the determined Marrocco told him that he would walk off the plane to meet his platoon when they returned from Iraq. Six months later he did just that.
His next story was on Scotty Smiley, the first blind person to remain on active duty. Smiley lost his sight in 2005 following a suicide car bomb on his vehicle in Mosul, Iraq.
Caslen said Smiley did not allow his blindness to keep him from making a difference. He went on to command cadets at the West Point and served as a leadership instructor.
“Frankly, he didn’t really have to teach leadership. All he had to do was show up,” said Caslen.
The final story Caslen shared was that of South Carolina native Sgt. Maj. Thomas “Patrick” Payne. Payne received the Medal of Honor for rescuing 70 hostages taken by ISIS in Iraq.
“We here today have a shared belief that America is the greatest nation in the world,” Caslen stated in his openign remarks. “The reason for this belief is very simple. It is because of the brave men and women, including many of you here today that have stood up to be counted when our freedom was threatened and sacrificing so much in the process. May we always be worthy of their sacrifice. To echo the words of Private Ryan, I hope that we have earned what they have done for us.”