Chances are that this past week you enjoyed the mother of all summer celebrations. Block party, beach day, BBQ in the backyard — however you spent July 4, it is a good bet it involved sun, good company, tasty food, and some fireworks.
While part of the tradition surrounding this holiday involves just such revelry, it is important to take a moment away from the merry-making to reflect on the more serious side of Independence Day.
This is the time when we celebrate not only the freedoms we are afforded here in the good ole U.S. of A, but all the men and women who have fought to keep them alive.
There have been many heroes, both well known and unsung, over the course of the last 236 years who are worthy of our appreciation. From the founding fathers, to the suffragettes, to the civil rights leaders, to our military men and women, our country would not be the beacon of hope and justice it strives to be without their dedication and sacrifice.
During a trip my son and I took to our nation’s capital this last fall, we were fortunate to meet one of these very heroes in the flesh.
Our first morning in Washington, we visited the WWII memorial, which in itself is an amazing experience. What made this the highlight of our trip however, was the fact that we shared our visit with a contingent of WWII survivors from New Mexico.
We were able to meet and thank several gentlemen for the part they played in history, and heard their reflections on what their service meant to them.
One man in particular, Jack Anderson, made our visit incredible. Although he was getting on in age, Anderson was spry and lively as he regaled us with tales of his time spent as a naval pilot on the USS Intrepid, a distinguished aircraft carrier that saw time in the Pacific Theater during WWII.
He told us what it meant to leave home as a young man and head off into battle, to defend his homeland.
He shared how impossibly difficult it is to take off and land on the flight deck of a boat floating in the middle of the ocean.
He gave us the opportunity to shake the hand of a real life super-hero.
He was also quite proud of the fact that he and his shipmates were included in a book about the battle for Okinawa, “The Twilight Warriors” by Robert Gandt.
These so-called Twilight Warriors, named for the fact that they were trained during the twilight days of the war, were a tight-knit band of aviators, who found themselves fighting in the final battle of the Pacific.
For many of the self-named “Tail-End Charlies,” the fear was that, as there was finally an end in sight to the war, they might not see significant action. Little did they know that they would, in fact, be engaged in what would go down as the battle that would cost more American lives, ships, and aircraft than any naval engagement in U.S. history.
Gandt retells their story, bringing a human voice to the epic battle. He lets us peek into the lives of both young Americans at war, and their equally courageous counterparts – the Japanese Kamikazes who made every last effort to capture victory for their country.
In writing this book, Gandt also offered a fleeting moment of fame to those Twilight Warriors – men like Jack Anderson — whose efforts on the country’s behalf, while monumental, have gone largely unrecognized.
I promised Anderson that day in Washington that we would check out “Twilight Warriors,” and read about the bravery he and his brothers-in arms displayed. This week, as I reflect on all the heroes, both past and present, who have helped secure my freedom, I intend to make good on that promise.