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“Only the People Who Lost and Then Got Back Their Freedom Know its Price”
Americans Role in WWII Remembered in the Czech Republic
©2009, Hugh T. Harrington
Milledgeville, GA 31061
Only a few years ago the term “The War” meant only one thing; World War II. Now, with the passage of time and the passing of so many of our veterans, the expression is not heard often today.
As the WWII veterans pass away the enormity of what they did as well as the history of that titanic struggle is unknown territory for a lot of Americans. Americans are becoming less and less aware of the role the United States played in The War. Perhaps it is necessary to be subjected to a foreign invader and conqueror to understand the magnitude of what the United States, and our Allies, did.
If there ever was a “good war” it was the Second World War. The German onslaught had overrun Europe and pushed deep into Russia. Before the United States entered the war England, standing alone, fought for its very existence with only the narrow English Channel separating the seemingly invincible Nazis from an almost defenseless England.
The Japanese on the other side of the world, after beating up the US Navy at Pearl Harbor, were conquering the Philippines and Southeast Asia and threatening to overwhelm China and India. Almost the entire Pacific Ocean was under the control of the Japanese.
The free democracies of the world, along with the Soviet Union, had their backs to the wall and were fighting for survival. They, including the United States, were losing the war everywhere across the globe. It was to be a long, hard struggle with victory very much in doubt.
Eventually the United States and its allies came back from the brink of utter defeat to conquer the Germans and Japanese. Our World War II veterans helped make that victory possible. Those that came home knew, and everyone knew, that they had bought our freedom with their sacrifices.
Today there has been a change. As a nation many of us have forgotten, or tragically never were taught, what our fighting men did to preserve freedom not just in the United States but in many countries around the world. Astonishingly, some of our highest elected officials have traveled the world making apologies for our conduct during The War, expressing official regrets as they second guess, in true Monday Morning Quarterback style, what was done during that time of crisis. During The War there was no second guessing. The lives of Americans, the survival of our country and the existence of the free world, was at stake.
However, despite the shortcomings of some of our politicians, some of our schools, and some of our citizens who ought to know better, there are those who remember our veterans and the job they did in World War II. Many of these, of course, are here in our own country. But, surprisingly, or perhaps not surprisingly, there are many in countries overwhelmed by Nazi tyranny during the war who remember the United States as their knight in shining armor.
Recently, I was in contact with a young man, Roman Susil of Zlin, in the Czech Republic, formerly Czechoslovakia. I found that he, and many others in his country, view the United States as the liberator of his nation because of what the US did during The War. The graves of US airmen shot down over their country are marked and decorated. Memorials mark the sites where aircraft crashed. Wreaths are placed at crash sites and graves during annual commemorative events.
The now aged US veterans who visit the Czech Republic, perhaps to see once more the places they experienced in the war, are received as heroes.
I asked this man why our contribution to World War II is so well remembered by his countrymen. He told me that when his country was under the rule of the Soviet Union the role of the United States was barely known because the real history was suppressed and the truth censored. However, after the collapse of the Communist government twenty years ago, the factual history of The War was again taught in the schools and could be freely discussed. The citizens of the Czech Republic know that the United States, a remote country on the far side of the world, did so much for the liberation of Europe from Nazi tyranny. They are grateful and consider it a debt they cannot repay.
When I expressed my amazement he replied, “only the people who lost and then got back their freedom know its price.”
This is a very profound statement. I hope that we, who often hold our freedoms so cheaply, can be wise enough to know their value without having to lose them. Once lost, freedom rarely is restored.It is the gift of freedom that our veterans have given to us, and to much of the world, at such great cost to themselves. We must join with the Czechs and others in liberated countries around the world and remember what we owe and to whom we owe it.