This Veterans Day: Many a Man is Free

by Marcus Brotherton on November 11, 2013 · 25 comments

in A Man's Life


Picture freedom.

What image comes to mind?

When Sergeant Shifty Powers, one of the original Band of Brothers, returned to England for a brief reprieve after fighting in Normandy during WWII, his fellow paratroopers Donald Malarkey and Alton More scrounged up a U.S. army motorcycle and sidecar to go for a ride.

Ahead would come more fighting. Although the soldiers didn’t know it yet, they’d need to parachute into Holland for Operation Market Garden. After that would come the fight in the harsh winter conditions of the Battle of Bastogne.

But that day, simply, was about a motorcycle.

Malarkey had work to do, so More asked his friend Shifty if he’d like to ride up to Worcester with him. Shifty said yes and climbed aboard. More gave the bike a kickstart or two, the motor revved up, and they varoomed down the road.

It was a fine day with the sun peeking out from behind the English clouds, and as they zoomed by an American convoy they slowed enough for Shifty to hear somebody holler out his name.

Shifty never saw who it was or knew for certain who called his name, but he knew the man wasn’t from his outfit. Shifty speculated that it may have been somebody from back home in Dickenson Country, Virginia, who had perhaps recognized him from a high school basketball game.

It didn’t matter. With the convoy now passed by, More yanked on the throttle and the bike leaped forward. The countryside flew by. For the rest of that afternoon, Shifty held to that single thought — home — and grinned like nobody’s business.

I love that image—

Two soldiers roaring down the road on a motorcycle in England. It’s a brief reprieve in the middle of a horrific war. One of the men hears his named called out, and he remembers anew what he’s fighting for.

What does your freedom look like?

Hold that image in mind, and let’s examine freedom in greater detail, because right now — at this exact moment — many a man is free throughout the world.

What is he free to do?

  • to express his opinions
  • to pursue the career he wants
  • to gather a group of people in public to peacefully make his cause seen and heard
  • to worship whatever form of God he wants, and to go to any church without fear of being attacked
  • to travel where he wants
  • to buy property, build a house, and call it his own
  • to tell his government he agrees or disagrees with its decisions

But it’s not like that everywhere around the world. Right now — in late 2013 — some 2.4 billion people globally live without these basic freedoms. When these people push for freedom, they are censored, hurt, put in prison, or killed.So, why today is many a man free?

Sometimes freedom is negotiated for and received as a result — and wouldn’t it be commendable if this was always the case?

But often, unfortunately, freedom must be fought for and won. Hostilities exist throughout the world today in much the same manner as they did seventy years ago. Many a man is free today only because, in the words of a phrase often attributed to George Orwell, “rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would do him harm.”

Like it or not, many a man’s freedom is paid for with blood.

Because of that, we free men have a responsibility.

What do you do with your freedom?

Donald Malarkey came home from the war. He’s still alive today, living in Salem, Oregon.

Alton More came home from the war. Regretfully, he was killed in a car accident in 1958.

Shifty Powers came home alive. He lived a full and rich life at home in Virginia and passed away in 2009 at age 86.

But many of their friends and fellow soldiers did not come home alive.

The responsibility of every free man today is to remember this great price, to protect the freedoms he’s been given, and to make something of his life simply because he has the opportunity to do so.

The responsibility of every free man today is to truly live free.

This Veterans Day may we pay tribute to all soldiers from all wars who have given their grit and years — and sometimes their blood and lives — in the name of freedom.

The invitation is to remember the image of a soldier riding down the road on a motorcycle — and to hold fast to the bigger picture of why he was there and what he was doing.

He’s just been in hard battle, and he doesn’t know what horrors he has yet to face. Someone calls out the soldier’s name—

And his spirit is lifted to think of home, of all he’s fighting for there.


Shifty Powers. Photo Courtesy of the Powers Family

Over the past 6 years, I’ve been privileged to interview a number of WWII veterans for book projects, including Shifty’s War, the authorized biography of Sgt. Darrell “Shifty” Powers.

Here’s what a few of these WWII veterans had to say about freedom:

“The freedom we have today just didn’t happen. It was earned by our military throughout the years.”

—R.V. Burgin

“They teach so little history today. I spoke with one intelligent young lady recently who had never heard of Adolph Hitler. This is bad. We need to know history and teach it. Freedom isn’t free, and we need to repeatedly fight for our liberty.”

—Sid Phillips

“A few years back my wife and I were on a bus trip to see a museum. A couple from Melbourne, Australia was on the tour. The lady got tears in her eyes. ‘If it wasn’t for you fellows—’ she said, ‘for the Marines who fought in the South Pacific. We wouldn’t be here today.’ Well, that’s true. Japan had plans to conquer Australia. And I’d never thought about it before then, but the work we did really stood for something. We might not have always realized it here in this country, but the folks who stayed free in other countries sure did.”

—Roy Gerlach

“When I was a teenager I took freedom for granted until I got through the Army and saw what the Nazis had done in Germany. Then I realized that freedom isn’t automatic; it has a price.”

—Ed Tipper

“Unless you’re willing to stand up and be counted for what you believe in, you will lose all the freedoms important to you.”

—Herb Suerth, Jr.

“My message to each new generation is to value the freedoms you enjoy today.”

—Hank Zimmerman

When you picture freedom, what comes to mind?


Marcus Brotherton is a regular contributor to The Art of Manliness.

Read his blog, Men Who Lead Well, at

{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Manuel November 11, 2013 at 3:07 pm

When I picture freedom, the following comes to mind:

Not being affected or restricted by a given condition or circumstance. Which means that it’s impossible to be 100% truly free in life; there will always be certain limitations and restrictions, but that’s a GOOD thing. Limits give direction and purpose to our lives.

It also reminds me of the fact that to be truly free you need MONEY! A lack of money means severe limitation: there are tons of things you can’t do if you don’t have the money for it, basically anything you want to do in life that REQUIRES money, like flying on a plane, eating in a restaurant, staying in a hotel, buying concert tickets etc.

2 Kyle November 11, 2013 at 3:25 pm

These soldiers were many times the men we are today. May we all take a moment in reverence and re-dedication of purpose. Thank you all who served.

3 Tony Coulter November 11, 2013 at 3:33 pm

Freedom means everything when we have it; but it will mean nothing if we don’t fight to keep it.

4 Nikolai M. November 11, 2013 at 4:25 pm

I’d like for Europe to be free from American commercialism, liberal cultural decadence, and mass-immigration of non-European peoples. I’d also like for Europeans to be free to express their opinions on controversial topics, such as David Irving, Horst Mahler, and Sylvia Stolz do, without facing banishment and/or incarceration.

5 Bryan J. Oates November 11, 2013 at 4:29 pm

As an Afro-American man, freedom means EVERYTHING to me! All the pain, trials and loss of hope that my ancestors had to deal with, is the reason why I have chose my obligation to give back to my culture and fellowman; who strives to make life and country a better place for all individuals to be free and equally treated well.

Having being born on this very day(Veterans Day) I take it as an honor to give thanks and cheers for the courageous men and women who are/were soldiers for this country that have came so far as a nation and group of people from all backgrounds. I’m happy to have a birthday on the very day that our country chose to praise all who believe in fighting for life.

-Bryan J.
(Lacey, Wa)

6 Peter Dunstan November 11, 2013 at 4:43 pm

Freedom: I am a Christian, and though I believe that there is only one True and Loving God, I believe that freedom should include the right to follow a belief that does not harm others.

Once that is in place, then all people can be considered equal.

I believe that is freedom; the right to believe, and the right to be equal.

7 Hugh Knight November 11, 2013 at 5:39 pm

Sir, I read your article with enjoyment, thank you for posting it. I was extremely disappointed, however, to see that in your list of rights you left out you left out the one upon which all the others depend: The right to keep and bear arms. Without arms, the rest of the rights depend upon someone else’s generosity–they are then not natural rights, but granted rights, and we are then not citizens but subjects. Free men are armed men. Subjects are not armed.

8 Marcus Brotherton November 11, 2013 at 6:31 pm

@ Hugh, thanks for your comment. While the right to bear arms applies to the U.S.A., the article references freedom globally. (“Right now, many a man around the world is free.”

Some countries around the world, while still being classified as ‘free,’ do not enjoy this right.

Hope that clears up why that important right was not included in the list.

Thanks again–MB

9 jerry November 11, 2013 at 6:55 pm

Kyle…speak for yourself…these men were forced to go to war…my generation went to help other people be free…they fought for themselves..they didn’t want to help the rest of the world until pearl harbor…then they took credit for winning the war when Russia lost millions.

My generation has a great number of as good or better men than these.,,that is Americas only hope…my generations children.

10 Greg November 11, 2013 at 7:35 pm

I agree with what is written on the Bill of Rights as far as freedom.

What concerns me is how much society has changed since I was a kid. I grew up in a neighborhood that could be tough at times, but, when the chips were down people would come together and support each other.

Living in a metropolitan area I no longer see or sense that people stand united. I see them as segmented and into their own thing which is their right as to pursue freedom in their own way.

It just concerns me that with all of this techno-progress we are not teaching kids history , ask a kid who Hitler was when you see one. See if they can answer that question.

I am ever grateful to those who served in the military, as they say the heroes are the one’s who did not come back out of humbleness. They are all heroes no matter what role they serve or served.

11 Buddy November 11, 2013 at 7:58 pm

@Hugh Knight

You hit it right on the head. I take my rights very seriously and am appalled at the current push to restrict them further. I am a 6 year Air Force combat veteran who served in Afghanistan. I live off my GI Bill and my VA disability check these days. God help me when I have to get back into the workforce. I’d much rather see an informed populace push back against the plutocracy which seeks to enslave them than the lip service paid to veterans which has become the norm. Everyone says they support the troops, but what does this mean? A bumper sticker on your car means nothing to us who have put our lives on the line, for better or worse, for this nation. If people really wanted to support those in uniform they would stop with the “Thank you for your service” platitudes and they would educate themselves, they would take back this country from the selfish and greedy oligarchs who have swindled us out of a country deserving of our sacrifices.

12 Sean Cook November 11, 2013 at 9:09 pm

This article has moved me to make a confession. I’m a veteran of OIF-II, did both pushes into Fallujah. I loved being a Marine. I hated being in the military. I didn’t care about America or the greater good then and I still don’t today. I just wanted to live out some absurd war movie fantasy, a little Lawrence of Arabia and a little Black Hawk Down. I got what I wanted and a little extra. Not complaining or making an anti-war argument, just bragging. Here is the confession, when I came home I played the veteran card to use a person’s patriotic guilt to gain the upper hand in pretty much every social situation and/or confrontation. I feel that the right thing to do is admit it and apologize to my fellow veteran’s for cheapening their service because I wanted to get out of a speeding ticket.

13 Peter Dunstan November 11, 2013 at 10:25 pm

I don’t want to direct this ‘at’ someone, it has such negative connotations, but here I go, Hugh, I understand that freedom in today’s world takes on different forms in different countries, however, isn’t the right to bear arms made necessary by the erosion of other more basic ‘freedoms’. Surely arms would not be necessary in order to be safe if everyone simply had and appreciated the right to feel safe (this right/freedom tends to be the root cause of so many international conflicts).

Maybe I’m over simplifying, but I’m reminded of a brief note in an American newspaper I recently saw on facebook; a woman living in an affluent yet dangerous suburb called police when a mysterious person knocked on her door and then did not respond when she asked who was there. The police investigated and found that the would be assailant was simply delivering a parcel.

That lady may have the had the right to bear arms, but even with that ‘freedom’ she was still unable to even feel safe.

14 Hugh Knight November 12, 2013 at 2:38 am

Marcus, I appreciate the distinction you are attempting to make, but, with respect, it is artificial. Natural rights are *inherent* rights; they are different from so-called “granted” rights (e.g., a driver’s license). Natural, or “fundamental,” rights belong to all men, everywhere. That some tyrannical regimes prevent some people from having those rights by force does not change the fact that those rights still exist. The meanest slave in the worst communist country has a natural *right* to speech, bear arms, privacy, etc., because these are natural rights; the fact that his criminal masters deny him those rights is immaterial to that fact. We Americans do not have the rights we do because they were granted by anyone; our Constitution *protects* those rights, but it cannot grant them because natural rights do not come from anyone else. That’s the central point.

All men can be divided into two groups: Citizens or subjects. An armed man is always a citizen, and cannot be made into a subject except through his own death or loss of character (read: “cowardice”). Again: Without the right to keep and bear arms, none of the other rights mean anything.

15 Colin Falconer November 12, 2013 at 5:13 am

My old man was at D-Day. Never talked much about it. He got knocked out twice – once from a German shell that landed next to him and killed his mate, the other time when he stole a motorbike from stores in 1946 and drove it into a tree outside Cologne while going into town to see his German girlfriend.

So he was wounded twice fighting for his freedom – once going against the German Army and once going against the British Army, who told him he couldn’t kiss a German girl and he said he’d kiss whoever he damned well pleased.

I still honor his memory and the men he fought with who didn’t make it home and never had the chance – as he did – to get busted back down to private fighting for his freedom when the fighting was done.

As I honour the men who died for our freedoms in any war. But once the peace is declared we can sometimes forget that the war may still rage at home.

16 Darren November 12, 2013 at 7:51 am

Marcus, I just finished reading your book on Shifty. Sweet read, thanks.

I see many strong feelings here about what freedom means. I’m just glad we can actually have that conversation. Some of these statements would land you in trouble in many countries around the world.

I hear a lot of people crowing about freedom (political) but at the same time give themselves to personal slavery – alcohol. tobacco, drugs, pornography, and any other addictive substance. Until you master yourself, you’re a slave.

17 John Junger November 12, 2013 at 8:57 am

Mr. Knight, I think you’re bring a bit of a pedant. I don’t agree that freedom can be boiled down to one essential thing. I think J. Rufus Fears lectures on the history of liberty get it right by saying that there are essentially three vectors of freedom: personal, national, and political.

18 tim_lebsack November 12, 2013 at 11:32 am

I admire the military, so much so that I work to prevent the so-called leaders of this country from pawning them.

19 Tim West November 12, 2013 at 12:42 pm

Today, when so-called gratitude for the military is seen everywhere, our freedoms are fewer than they’ve ever been. I fear a nation where constant, artificial patriotism is paraded across every possible stage.
Consider the Vietnam era, when one could speak against the military without fear of public outrage. Were Americans not freer then than today, when publicly thanking those who sign up for wars of aggression wasn’t required at every campaign speech or sports game?
We are lucky that the Allies won World War II, certainly. A great many of the men who fought that war are deserving of our thanks. So, too, are many of today’s soldiers. But is every single person ever to serve in the US Armed Forces a hero? No.

20 LongJohn November 12, 2013 at 1:50 pm

Being a young German Guy, who was born 45 years after WW2 has been ended by allied troops, I am grateful for every soldier that passed and those that risked to die for freedom.

Freedom today has been build on military power, on dedication to free the enslaved and punish those that did the worst . Yet, I think, and some of you did mention it in a sense, Freedom tomorrow has to be build upon education! Especially on responsible media consumption, which lulls so many young men (and women) into following states and organisations they can’t even numeralize to their full extent. And yes, I’m particulary talking about strategic mass surveillance and how it is used to manipulate the uneducated, using highly-refined techniques of surveillance and (!) mass psychology, which a person named Hitler was very fond of. History is like mathmatics: repeating itself in more abstract ways, only to appear even more mighty.
The news show you attention-grabbing, anxiety-inducing stuff to keep your minds busy, using efficient algorithms fed on the personal data of 300 million free people. I enjoyed the recent article on media consumption very much, it hit the nail right into what’s most important today.

21 sam November 12, 2013 at 2:40 pm

Many countries are not free. Many countries that consider themselves free and Democratic are not. The “People’s Republic of China” is supposedly a “people’s republic.” I’m the United States we really only enjoy maybe half of the rights you listed, though most people still think we have them all.

22 Chris November 13, 2013 at 1:15 am

I like your comment from ed tipper. I’m reading a bio on Churchill during the 1930s at the moment and its description of the steps at which free European nations slipped into unfree fascist state is scary. I can hardly imagine what he must have saw there.

23 Doc November 13, 2013 at 2:16 pm

When I think of freedom I remember my fellow paratroopers that stood alongside me in Afghanistan. I think of my daughter who I hope will always understand and cherish how fortunate I am to have known such men.

24 Aka November 13, 2013 at 11:52 pm

Currently, you are free in the US to travel where you want – unless you try to fly somewhere and someone decided you shouldn’t. You can’t find out who said so, or why. You can’t clear your name. Sometimes this trick is pulled when someone is abroad to effectively deport them without formal deportation.

You can express your opinions, and tell your government what you think of its decisions. If you get their attention, they will mine the data they have from spying on you, to see if they have anything they can use for leverage. If you lead a protest, or god forbid, a movement, you can count on them planning your assassination – just in case. They probably won’t do anything with that plan, but they’ll keep it handy.

Which leads to the freedom to gather a group in public to peacefully make their cause seen and heard. Have you seen what happens when people do that these days? Paramilitary police arrive, and the protestors get nailed with pepper spray, shot with rubber or wooden projectiles or water cannons, blasted with LRADs and either kettled and arrested or dispersed because the police “declare the assembly unlawful.” Sometimes protest is allowed, but for events where they’d rather not have it in an inconvenient or unsightly place, protestors are confined to a “free speech zone” or “first amendment zone” – because apparently the first amendment only applies where the police say it does.

Overall, while many brave men (and now women) have died to protect our freedoms, it was not foreign powers that threatened them, but domestic ones.

25 Grant December 2, 2013 at 1:09 pm

‘Shifty’ Powers only lived in the next town from me all these years, and I had no idea of his exploits until the ‘Band of Brothers’ became so popular. A real gem for our home in Dickenson Co., VA.

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