Freedom isn’t free, it comes with a price

Published 11:02 am Monday, June 6, 2016

“Here we mark the price of freedom.”

Those are the words engraved on the Freedom Wall at the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. The Freedom Wall includes 4,048 gold stars, and each star represents 100 American military deaths during World War II.

I recently took time to visit the memorial and pay my respects to those who served our country, and the ones who ultimately lost their lives in defense of the freedoms we all hold dear.

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The monument is especially powerful for me because many members of my family played a role in the war. My dad served in the Army in the U.S. forces island-hopped throughout the Pacific. My uncle, Pat Byrne, fought in the Battle of the Bulge where he sustained serious injuries. He went on to earn the Purple Heart for his service. Another uncle, Jack Langsdale, actually lost his life while serving in the Merchant Marines after his ship was sunk by a German U-boat.

These are just the stories from my family. I know every family has their own stories of service and sacrifice from the Greatest Generation and other conflicts, including the ongoing War on Terror.

In Washington, I fight every day to ensure we are giving our current service members the tools they need to defend our country. The military has seen cuts in recent years that have taken a real toll on our military equipment and resources. This, in turn, has put many service members at greater risk.

So, with Memorial Day approaching, the House recently passed the National Defense Authorization Act. This legislation sets policy and authorizes spending for our military. The bill orders a pay raise for our troops while also providing proper oversight of the Pentagon.

One of the best ways to avoid major conflict and prevent putting more Americans in harm’s way is to project American strength around the world. In order to do that, we need a strong and fully capable military. This year’s NDAA would get us headed in the right direction by making serious investments in our military readiness. I was proud to support the bill as we work to rebuild our military.

I always hear a lot about the need to keep our military strong, and I recently heard the same plea from veterans at the Armed Forces Day event at Battleship Memorial Park in Mobile.

This event was especially powerful because the traveling Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall was on display, and many of our local Vietnam veterans were seeing the wall for the first time.

One veteran broke down in tears upon seeing the name of one of his former comrades. His tears spoke to the pain of war, but also to the comradery that is shared amongst our service members. It was an incredibly powerful moment, and only reaffirmed my commitment to standing up for our veterans and active-duty service members.

This Memorial Day, I hope you took time to reflect on the stories of service and sacrifice that helped make our country great. Hopefully you were able to pay special respects to the men and women who ultimately lost their life in defense of freedom.

Freedom is not, and has never been, free. That is the message in each of those stars on the World War II Memorial, in each of those names on the Vietnam Wall, and on each tombstone at Arlington National Cemetery.

May we never forget those who paid the ultimate sacrifice, and may we each work every day to uphold the freedoms they fought so hard to protect.

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne represents the 1st Congressional District of Alabama, which includes Escambia County.