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.