The Price of Freedom

This Fourth of July, as Americans across the country blast triumphant flares toward the heavens to celebrate 246 years as a nation founded on freedom, many citizens—civilian and military servicemen alike—will reflect on the cost associated with maintaining that freedom we all enjoy.

The price of freedom—it is a phrase we often hear, but can we as ordinary citizens even fathom the sacrifices made by our countrymen, from the founding fathers of the past to those battling wars overseas today?

We may recall the date that will live in infamy, that infamous Pearl Harbor attack that brought America into World War II and the devastation that occurred on that beautiful Hawaiian naval base. We may think of our soldiers knee deep in the jungle swamps of Vietnam. And, inevitably, we remember the attacks of 9/11, which sprung our forces into action in the Middle East where many are still stationed to this day.

But do we think of the infant who has yet to meet his dad? The proud mamma bear biting her nails anxiously as she watches CNN day after day? What about the aging veteran now struggling on the streets, overcome with visions in his mind that suck him back into the worst moments of war he endured all those years ago? These, also, signify the price of freedom.

As a country, we are able to celebrate Fourth of July thanks to those that paid the ultimate price to defend our freedom. (Courtesy of Andrew Pons/Unsplash)

Fresno State professor Dr. William Rice, a Vietnam-era veteran and vice chair of the Clovis Veterans Memorial District board, said he can think of seven costs associated with freedom, many of which contribute to countless actual dollars lost in the defense of our country and its ideals. They start with the lost contribution at home of the individual fighting for his or her country and the burden borne by their family and trickle down to cost we often don’t conceive—the costs to our culture and society as a whole, and not just from a taxation standpoint.

“There are seven costs of freedom,” Dr. Rice explained. “The first one is individual cost of losing that individual and their contribution, one if he dies or if he comes back and is wounded and needs to be taken care of; that reduces the productivity of our society. Second is the family, the wife and children and their relationships and their ability to be properly managed and directed. The third layer has to do with the impact on the immediate community in which they live from the standpoint of relationships and the issue of participation and involvement built on the aspect of if they count on the person as coming back or not coming back.

“The next layer has to do with the costs to society overall from the standpoint of paying for any medical care or the other costs that occur because people are disabled. It’s a continual cost we are paying every month and every day because of the cost of sending somebody to war. The next layer has to do with the cost to our culture. I still have aunts and uncles who hate the Japanese because we fought them even though I have Japanese neighbors that I have a love for, but there is always that feeling culturally at the back of that. Then, there is the cost of the whole world and pulling back feelings of connectivity with the rest of the world and the ability to trust folks.

“You have these distinct layers of things that bombard us because people have to go out and defend our freedom.”

United States Air Force servicemen unload the casket of a fallen soldier. (Courtesy of 12019/Pixabay)

To sum it up, Rice provided the analogy of the simple paycheck: the money you actually receive may not be that much because insurance, unemployment taxes, retirement, social security and the like all come out. These items are valuable, he said, but they have to be explained for us to understand why our checks seem so small. Likewise, American troops are very valuable, but all we see is one aspect of the price they pay—we know they fight, we know they get injured and we know some even die—but there are many other costs that affect our society as a whole that we don’t even realize.

For Terry Baro, the mother of Jeremiah Baro, one of eight Buchanan High School graduates killed while serving in the Middle East, the price of freedom couldn’t come at a higher cost.

As a Gold Star mother who paid the ultimate price of losing her son in Iraq on his second tour, the Fourth of July and other patriotic holidays mean so much more than pomp and circumstance.

“It is bittersweet I suppose because I look around at many people who think of it as a day off. That makes me sad for them that they don’t understand the importance and the significance of the day, and what it truly means to their freedom. I wish more people, especially the younger generations, had more awareness of what it truly means and how truly blessed they are to be in this country with these freedoms and understand what it costs the nation as a whole … ,” Baro said.

To this day, Baro and her two younger sons, who were very close to and loved their big brother dearly, still approach the day with reverence.

“Last year on the Fourth [of July], we put together a special dinner at home with Jeremiah’s favorite foods and just hung out a little bit,” Baro said. “We talked about it and a lot of their friends were over and we watched the different celebrations on television. It’s really a quiet time for us. We don’t do a lot of celebrating, we don’t talk a lot, just have a quiet remembrance of what it means and the boys are very reverent to that. I’m not saying they don’t go out and enjoy fireworks, but deep down inside it means something more to us.”

Current Army mom Elizabeth Laval, a senior executive for PBS and the Central Valley field force representative for West Point admission, said people tend to forget about the extended family, namely the mothers and fathers, of servicemen, instead thinking mainly of the wives or husbands and children.

“As a parent, you’ve spent their entire youth protecting them and making sure they stay out of harm’s way and then you see them make a conscious decision that you know could end up with that ultimate price,” Laval said. “You feel proud, of course. But at the same time it opens a wound that will never heal and even when they come back, you fear that something could have happened. You don’t dwell on it every day, but it’s there and I think about it. It’s nice to be in the presence of other military folks who you just know they are feeling what you’re feeling and they’ve been there before you.”

The 2017 Freedom Fest featured a 25-minute show with over 4,600 fireworks. (Photo by Ron Sundquist)

Baro said she remembers television news blaring in the background constantly when the family was trying to obtain any information they could about the situation in Iraq.

“When he first went in, we didn’t hear from him for months and just watched the news of how things were progressing in that area and it was nerve-racking,” Baro said. “My husband at the time just sat watching the news constantly and I, on the other hand, couldn’t watch it at all. I didn’t want to know. I think it’s just different for everybody how they handle all of that … Today communication is better, but the fear is still the same. You have concern and worry for your son or daughter regardless of where they are stationed. You have that constant fear and you just have to deal with it the best you can and get through each day because you have other obligations that need to be handled. It’s not for the weak-hearted to have a loved one in the service.”

Vaughan Rios, the wife of Clovis Veterans Memorial District CEO Lorenzo Rios, said she and her sons had a similar experience to Baro, always watching the news and waiting to hear from their husband and father. In addition, for Vaughan, the challenge was acting as both mom and dad. When Lorenzo could call home, she tried not to let on how stressed she was.

“It is the little things that just take a toll on you and you don’t even really realize it at the time,” Vaughan said. “We have news on all the time and are constantly watching that and you don’t realize the kids aren’t just watching cartoons, these are little kids watching the news – and that is definitely a subtle thing that happens. On the one hand, when you have little kids, you are trying to keep them safe and protected and trying to make things fun. But at the same time you’re trying to be mom and dad and cheerleader and coach and all those things. That is another aspect that takes its toll. Lorenzo would call home and ask how everything was going and everything might be falling apart but as far as he is concerned, everything is great. I just tried to put a positive spin on it for him.”

Lorenzo Rios says though it’s important to always remember the sacrifices made in service to this country, he said he prefers to instead focus on the reward on the Fourth of July.

“The fact that we can come together as a community and celebrate life is the greatest reward we can have because somebody is currently on the frontlines making sure that when we sleep, we’re not afraid. That is why any narrative that anyone would try to advance in our country that would have a nation concerned more about fear than to celebrate opportunity is ill informed,” he said. “This is a nation where we should be celebrating what we do have and not just lamenting what we don’t have. I think we celebrate what we do have and we work toward what we don’t have but we have a system in place.”

For Rios, the price of freedom is many things—it’s the 400,000 American soldiers stationed across the nation at this moment, it’s the child who doesn’t get to see their loved one—but it’s all in defense of one magical thing: The American Dream.

“We are all dreamers; we dream the impossible dream,” Rios said. “My biggest fear is when we stop dreaming, when as a nation we are afraid to use the word dream so now it has to be a political term or classification of immigration status and no longer can you say American dream or American dreamer without associating that. That would be the worst thing we could do. Let’s remember as the American population that we are all dreamers and let’s instill in our children that they too are American dreamers. I don’t care your gender, how you identify, your faith, your color – it doesn’t matter. The fact that you are blessed with growing in this nation and have the ability to be exposed to these freedoms, you should live up to the potential and not live down to the expectations. You can either live down to local expectations or live up to God-given potential and this country is the only place where you can truly see that happen but that requires you to be willing and able to … People may call you an idealist, but I call you an American dreamer … With the price of freedom, yes there are some challenges, but this is the reward.”