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Major Paul Smith (ret): The Cost of Freedom

Major Paul Smith (ret) lives off Chestnut Grove Road near Breeding , KY, since 2012. He is a much decorated Marine, who earned a Silver Star in Vietnam. Everywhere he's traveled, he's worked to adapt to the local culture and has served to the extent of this ability. He's doing that in the local area counties, where, among other things he loves, is the friendliness of the people.
Click on headline for complete transcription of his address SEE ALSO: Program wrap up including photo Album with pictures by CM Staff, Gale Cowan, possibly others.VFW - Historic Memorial Day program a memorable one - w/ALBUM

Keynote Address by Major Paul Smith (ret.)
at the 2018 VFW Post 6097 Memorial Day program, May 27, 2018

Memorial day and the idea of honoring those who paid the ultimate price for their belief in the freedom of our country was born out of the Civil War and was originally called "Decoration Day." After World War I it became a day of honor and remembrance for all those who died in any war or conflict in service of their country. In 1971 Memorial Day was finally recognized as a national holiday.



One little known fact about Memorial Day, the idea and the tradition of wearing the red poppies to honor those who died was begun by Moina Michael in 1915 following a poem she wrote to honor those who had died in battle. It read:

We cherish too, the poppy red
That grows on fields where valor led
It seems to signal to the skies
That blood of heroes never dies

In 1922 the VFW began selling those red poppies to raise money for veterans causes and continues to this day

When asked to speak here, I began to think about the cost of freedoms we enjoy today. Everyone has heard the expressions or slogans, The Cost of Freedom, or Freedom is not Free, but do we think about when we hear these words. Certainly we think about today and those who have paid the ultimate price. From the beginning of our country men and women have paid the price for a belief in this country and the freedoms we enjoy.
- In the American Revolution - 25,000 paid the price
- In the Civil War - over 625,000
- In WW I - 116,516
- In WW II - 405,000
- In Korea - over 36,000
- In Viet Nam - over 58,000
- In Iraq and Afghanistan, so far in Iraq and Afghanistan, over 7,000
These men and women have paid the ultimate price, but it is not the only sacrifice and not the full cost of freedom. While in my mind that cost of freedom must include the many sacrifices each family member - parent, spouse, or child must make in order to support their loved one who has chosen to serve our country.

I recently attended by 17th reunion with many of the men I served with in Vietnam. My first reunion in 2001, I started down a road toward Georgia to attend. However, after driving a couple of hours, my fear made me turn around head back home. My wife, who was much smarter than I, and who had suffered through years of my lack of emotions and feelings, made me turn around again and go to the reunion. I did, but why was I afraid to go and see old friends and brothers? It was because of the emotions I wa afraid would bubble to the surface and which I was not prepared to face. I had no idea of the healing effect that first reunion would have on my life and others.

For the first time since returning from Viet Nam many of us were able to openly talk about things which we could not talk about with anyone else. We could start a story about something that had deeply affected us and our friends and brothers could finish the story. However, the conversations always led to one of our brothers who had lost his life in some action we were a part of. We praised him, talked about his deed, both funny and heroic. In our battalion there were over 900 who paid that ultimate price.

Each year at reunion, we hold a ceremony of remembrance reading the names of every Marine and Navy corpsman who paid that ultimate price but are not forgotten. In addition, we select from one or two of those who lost their lives, contact their family and ask them to attend a ceremony honoring their son, brother, or sister. During the ceremony, a number of those who were closest to that brother get up and talk about their friend. It covers their friendship, the stories of their lives in combat, and their deaths. Many of these thing the family had neve heard and were unaware of the deep feelings the losses held for each of us as much as them.

The family members then have their opportunity to speak of their loved ones and we learn about their lives and what made them such good and patriotic citizens who were will to sacrifice all for their country.

In listening to these families each year I am struck by suffering and sacrifices made by each of these military families. Even without the death of their loved ones, military families sacrifice every day for their sons and daughters, the spouses sacrifice for their husband or wife, the children sacrifice time with their mothers or fathers that can never be recovered. They live in constant fear for their loved ones, they are uprooted and moved every two or three years, losing touch with friends and loved ones and, way too often, suffer the loss of the loved one for whom they had sacrificed so much. They also suffer through another kind of death, not a physical death but a kind of death for all who have suffered through it. It has come to be known as PTSD. While it lives in those dealing with the reality of combat, it an also be devastating to our wives who suffer with us through all the memories, the nightmares, and recovery. For all of the Vets who have suffered, often in the same silence as the vet.

I asked a number of my brothers at the reunion about what serving in the military cost them. The number one answer from all of the was the affects it had on their relationships and marriages.

My last question to them was, "Knowing what you know now, would you do it again?" To a man, every single one of them would not only do it again, but would step forth now if called upon.

I close now with a quote that came from the sister of this year's honored Marine, "We all suffered a great loss when we received word of my brother's death, but I understand now that as long as you, his friends and brothers, live, so too, will he live on. Thank You." And so too, will all of the young men and women whom we honor this weekend live on so long as we continue to remember. Paul Smith

Major Smith was given a long, standing ovation at the end of his address.


This story was posted on 2018-05-28 14:48:23
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