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It is an axiom that nothing in life is free. Even when someone gets “something for nothing” one can rest assured that someone, somewhere, actually paid for it. So it is with our nation. We can claim our constitutional form of government with its separated and divide powers and its guarantee of individual freedom and liberty as a birthright. But those freedoms came at a cost and demand payment from every generation. Christmas 2003 finds young Americans in uniform fighting and paying the cost.

The young men and women standing watch for us, whether they are on board a ship, twisting the controls of a fighter or manning a foxhole in some godforsaken hellhole, enjoy a link with other Americans. Those other Americans shivered at Valley Forge, lived on K-rations and guts at Bastogne, or sweated out yet another “Christmas cease-fire” along the Annamese Cordillera. Through this link the Past and the Present combine to insure the Future.

Somewhere, in some flyblown village in the Middle East, a tired trooper will put down his rifle and reach into his pack to hand some trinket, a toy or piece of candy, to a child. With that one act he will do more to spread good will towards America and Americans than all our pontificating politicians and hundreds of billions of dollars in foreign aid combined. That trooper will be thinking of none of this of course, just that the kid reminds him of a nephew, sister or neighbor and he wants to “do something” for them. The rifle our trooper carries is to battle the ghosts of a failed past, the candy may just win the battle for the future.

That is the secret of American greatness. It is not our planes, tanks and guns that make us great, but something inside. It is an innate knowledge and acceptance of the ideals of the Founding Fathers, the notion that we are all created equal and that all people are “endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights.” This is why the thugs and murderers of al Qaeda and totalitarian rulers of every stripe hate us. It is not our planes and tanks that they fear, it is the idea and ideals wrapped up in that piece of candy. The gift our trooper gives that child is a gift to us all.

Those of us not in uniform often wonder, “What can I do?” for those who have sworn to defend our country. The answer is simple: never, ever forget them.
 
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