Standing at the foot of the veterans memorial in Heise Park on Monday afternoon, I recalled the words of President Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.
“ … we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground,” the address reads in part. “The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract.”
Most any attempt made to honor the brave men and women who have donned the uniform of the military of the United States of America pales in comparison to the brief, yet timeless tribute delivered by our 16th president in the rural Pennsylvania hamlet on Nov. 19, 1863.
But it is our duty as citizens who enjoy the benefits of the freedom and liberty won by those who have passed into history, and still secured by those who wear the uniform today, to honor them.
I grew up just east of Tampa, Florida, not too far from MacDill Air Force Base, so it was fairly common to see military personnel around the community. In fact, my neighborhood was home to at least four families who were associated in some fashion with the base. Most notably and most familiar to my family was an Air Force colonel with the last name of Rothman. He and his wife and four children lived three doors down from us.
My Dad (I called him Pop) had a great deal of respect for “The Colonel,” as he called Mr. Rothman. I was friends with the Rothman children, but was extremely intimidated by Mr. Rothman. He wasn’t a mean person, but he was no teddy bear, either; at least not in public.
On one occasion, however, after Mr. Rothman had scolded me for misbehaving while playing at his house, I told my Pop that I didn’t like “The Colonel.” I made the mistake of rendering the misguided, childish judgment that Mr. Rothman wasn’t a “good man.”
That assessment by his then 8-year-old son didn’t set too well with my Pop.
“Do you know what ‘The Colonel’ does for us?” Pop asked me. I shrugged.
“He keeps us safe. He puts his life on the line for us. He spends long periods of time away from his family and gives up the comfort of home to make sure we can enjoy what we have,” Pop said. “That man that you think isn’t a ‘good man’ is much more than that; he’s a great man. He deserves your respect. And he deserves an apology from you for acting the fool at his house.”
In just a few moments all those years ago, Pop’s gentle instruction instilled within me a deep respect for our military men and women that continues today, and is something that I’ve strived to instill in my own son.
Back in the present day, the inscription on a pedestal at the Heise Park memorial is a moving tribute to the people who wear uniforms of our Armed Forces and remnded me of that experience with Pop.
It reads: “The red of this stone symbolizes the blood that was shed and the unselfish sacrifices made by the men and women who bravely served to protect this country. Let us never forget what they gave for our freedom.”
May God bless our veterans and their families and may God bless the United States of America.
(The Galion Inquirer is paying tribute to our veterans in today’s edition with four pages of photos. See pages 6 through 9 for the display.)