Private Nelson Jones was pinned down under fire with his unit in a small square in Oerlinghausen, Germany, on April 18, 1945. As he tried to return fire, he was hit by the blast of a Panzer tank shell and killed instantly on a chilly Wednesday morning.
A year earlier, he was walking the halls as senior class president of Huntsville High School.
The cost of freedom has a name and for me it is my cousin, Nelson Jones. Now he rests in peace at the American National Cemetery in Margraten, Holland, along with more than 8,000 fellow soldiers.
I wouldn’t even know about Nelson’s sacrifice, if my Dad hadn’t told his story over and over. I’m glad he told us. It’s an important thing for our family to know because it associates the cost of freedom with a real name. It’s easy to forget that. Each fallen soldier had a life and a family. They had plans and dreams, talents and gifts that were never fully realized.
Every Memorial Day, a ceremony is held at Margraten to honor its dead. Each name is read aloud. One of those names is Nelson Jones.
He never got to come home. He never had a family of his own. He never had a career or even lived a day in his twenties. Millions of soldiers suffered and died in our wars, defending my right to go to the lake and celebrate this holiday with my family.
Memorial Day reminds me that freedom really isn’t free at all.
- Someone had to pay with his or her life
- A mother and father had to bury their child
- A wife ached each day her husband was gone
- Some lost their fortune
- Others lost their minds
- Many live with wounds that will never heal
This Memorial Day, many of us will eat our bar-b-que and potato chips in complete freedom—without threat or intervention. We’re free to gather with our families or join friends at the beach. We can travel to the country or the city. We can backpack on the Appalachian Trail, climb a mountain in the Rockies, or just stay at home.
Many of us will talk about politics. Some will discuss the upcoming election (often to the point of ad nauseum). Others will talk about injustices and social problems.
And some of us will complain.
I hear so much griping and complaining about our nation these days, but so little praise. School textbooks seem to focus on American evils, rather than on the American good (we have both). Entire news shows are devoted to all that is wrong or bad here, but not much is said about the things that are right. The headlines aren’t ever about how God has blessed our nation—I guess being positive doesn’t sell papers.
This constant flow of negativity shifts our perspective away from gratitude. It causes us take our national blessings for granted. It keeps us from remembering those who sacrificed. We have become a nation of victims and complainers. (at least I’m guilty of complaining) All of this focus on the negative makes us feel like we are underprivileged, when we are the most privileged people on earth.
Consider some of our privileges that many other nations don’t have:
- The right to worship
- Freedom of speech
- The right for a trial by jury
- The right to bear arms
- The right to protest
- The right to vote
- The right to own property
Yes, we are an imperfect and flawed nation, but we have so much to be grateful for—and so much to lose.
My cousin, Nelson, died 71 years ago as he fought for our nation. To him and to so many others, freedom was very costly. Remember someone had to pay a price for every “free” thing we have. Many Americans, like Nelson, rest in foreign cemeteries all over the world because they paid on our behalf.
Memorial Day is a special opportunity to resist complaining and to simply be grateful. It’s an opportunity to celebrate all the good things we enjoy in our nation. We can pause before we eat our holiday meals and thank God for those who gave their lives. You probably know someone–maybe even a family member–who sacrificed for our nation. Tell or retell their stories each Memorial Day. Dedicate the day in their honor. Our children need to know these things—we all do. Remember God gave us THIS country–the United States of America— to belong to, so let us be grateful for His gift.
*For further reading about Nelson Jones and my grandfather, Carl T. Jones who also sacrificed 5 years fighting abroad in WWII (and oddly helped design Margraten Cemetery), I recommend Citizen Soldier: Carl T. Jones by my father, Raymond B. Jones. The book is available on Amazon or at Barnes & Noble (Huntsville stores only) and Lawren’s.
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This is outstanding, May. A great reminder of our many blessings.
Thank you Shelia! Have a great holiday weekend.
Thanks for sharing! I love hearing stories involving ” the greatest generation.” My dad was drafted out of high school to serve in the Army during WWII. He was in Europe during some terrible times. so thankful he returned to have a life and be my dad.
Debi what a blessing that he made it through! Thank you for sharing about your dad and for your family’s contribution to our nation. Have a great Memorial Day.
May, thanks for this beautiful reminder of our many blessings and freedoms and those who died to make them possible! A great perspective this Memorial Day weekend.
Thanks for posting this, May. We tend to forget the sacrifices and take freedom for granted. Cousin Warren Jones, Nelson’s brother.
So grateful for your family’s sacrifice. It makes me happy to remember Nelson this Memorial day. Good to hear from you Warren
Thank you for sharing May! That was such a beautiful reminder. We do have much to be grateful for and complaining is never the answer. I am thankful for your cousin, Nelson Jones, and all the others who have fought for our freedom. Our soldiers are a reflection of Christ in that they lay their lives down so that others can be free. We are called to be “imitators of God” (Eph. 5:1) and our soldiers are one of the ways we see this lived out!
Thank you May! This is a beautiful story and I pray young and old will read it sharing in the grief and joy of remembering. As we celebrate with our families, friends and neighbors may it also be a part of our worship to the God whose endless love enables us as His Children, to conquer overwhelmingly in all things. (Rom. 8:35). All honor, praise and glory is His!! Love you dear one! Ms Maggie
Love you too, dear one. Thank you for bringing glory, honor and praise to God even in heart-breaking circumstances. You’re good example of praise is one that I’ll always cherish.
May, What an outstanding article!!! As I read your article, I realize that I take so much for granted each day. I am humbled by the sacrifice that so many like Nelson had to make for me. Thank you for reminding me on the special Memorial Day weekend. Love you
So many have given so much for this nation. Thank you for reminding us of Nelson’s sacrifice. I was just thinking this morning about what a luxury it is to live in the USA and the price paid for that luxury.
Amen Kim! I wish other Americans had similar thankful thoughts to yours. Being grateful is contagious, I think, so its best to be thankful out loud.