Freedom

Color Guard

Photo: Julia Ozab

A guest post by Julia Ozab (my wife) on what today means to her:

Freedom

By Julia Ozab

It’s a gorgeous evening in Eugene. Temperature hit 85 today. Summer is finally here (now that it’s July!) Being far too nice of an evening to be indoors, David, Anna, and I head over to Skinner Butte Park near the Willamette River. A great, newly refurbished playground entices Anna while the evening sun setting on the river invites me with my camera.

“Can you watch Anna while I take a short walk?” I ask David.

“No problem.”

So off I go, out to the wonderful bike path along the river, camera in hand. Stop, shoot, walk. Stop, shoot, walk – down the path I go heading east. I see bikers, walkers like me, families finishing up evening picnics, and dogs chasing tennis balls. I’m not sure how far I’m going to walk. I’d honestly just planned on 5-10 minutes but something is pushing me on. I’m enjoying the evening, the scenery, and the peaceful feeling only a flowing river can provide.

And then I see the Memorial.

The one I didn’t even know existed. A stone wall about ten feet wide and six feet high displays the names of all residences of Lane County lost to the various wars over the years – starting with World War I up through our current battles in Iraq and Afghanistan. The wall has names on both sides, and it’s not full yet. I can’t figure out if that’s good or bad. I don’t like that there’s room to add more names, and I don’t like that there are already so many there.

Sitting on a small bench, an older gentleman catches my eye. Beside him are his large beaten-up backpack and a rusty bicycle. He’s in old, somewhat torn clothing, and there are small tears shimmering in his eyes. This man is most likely a veteran and clearly homeless. This literally breaks my heart in half. To me, one homeless veteran is one too many, but I digress.

I put away my camera and walk around the wall, thinking about this man, why he’s here, and all that he’s seen in his life. I wonder which war he was in and whom he was there to visit. A friend. A brother. A son.

So I walk back around the wall to him. I know what I need to do.

“May I assume you’re a veteran, Sir?”

“Yes.”

I reach for his hand to shake it. “Thank you for your service.”

The tears get more intense and one slides down his wrinkled cheek.

“I’m here to visit with my brother. We served together in Vietnam.”

“I’m so sorry for your loss. You didn’t receive the welcome home and gratitude you deserved.”

“No, I didn’t. I came home, packed up my family, and we lived in the mountains for a year. I wasn’t wanted down here.”

“Well, it doesn’t begin to make up for what you faced back then, but I’d like to thank you now.”

I take his hand again and hold it tight – just for a moment.

But in that moment, I know true freedom; and I remember again whom we have to thank for that freedom.

“Have a Happy 4th of July,” he says to me.

“Thank you, Sir; you as well.”

I walk on down the path, knowing he’s crying a little bit more than before, but knowing as well that, this time, it’s because someone said Thank You.

I’m proud to be that someone.

Thank a veteran. They are the reason we are free.

Thank you, again, Sir, for you service and for giving me the ultimate experience for this Independence Day weekend. God bless you and your family.

Lane County Veterans Memorial

Photo: University of Oregon ROTC

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