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.
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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
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 www.marcusbrotherton.com