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Local View: After battle, I will always remember: 'Freedom isn't free'

From the column: "I had this illusion that all would be well and life would go back to the way it was before Michael left. What an illusion that was."

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070321.op.dnt.lauriepic

I was missing my dad a lot the day before Father’s Day, and I wanted to post a picture of him on Facebook. I had to go in search of a good picture. He died long before I had my first cellphone, so my cell was no help. While looking, I came across pictures of the welcome-home celebration in Grand Rapids for my son Michael’s troop. It was June 23, 2007. For those who don’t know, Michael served 15 months in Iraq as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Looking at the pictures, memories came rushing back. I really started thinking about the phrase, “freedom isn’t free.” No truer statement has ever been spoken, but few of us will ever truly understand.

If you never had to send your child off to war, count your blessings and pray to God you never do. I remember that day so clearly. I hugged Michael, said goodbye, and told him I’d see him when he came home. I did not shed a tear. I wanted to be strong. I needed to be strong. I thought if Michael had one ounce of fear in him, I needed to be strong. I wanted him to draw from my strength.

Michael came home for a visit for his sister Amanda’s wedding on June 24, 2006. It would be almost a year before I would see him again at the welcome-home celebration. I remember the drive up there. I found it hard to stay in my seat in our van. I kept calling everyone I knew, saying, “My son is coming home today! Michael is coming home!”

I remember seeing him for the first time as he walked into the gymnasium. He had grown and yet was so skinny. But he was beautiful.

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The soldiers were all in the center of the gym for the ceremony. The ceremony seemed to take forever. I am sure what they said was important, but the only thing I remember hearing was that Michael’s whole unit had come home. The gymnasium went wild. In that moment, I had this illusion that all would be well and life would go back to the way it was before Michael left.

What an illusion that was. Life would never be the same.

The Fourth of July has always made me proud to live where I do, but after the battle our family had to fight to save Michael after Iraq, I get giddy with pride. I remember every step of the seven-year journey to save Michael, and I remember looking at my family afterward and seeing how the battle affected us all. I remember it well.

If you see me at a Fourth of July or any other patriotic celebration, and I am jumping up and down like a crazy lady waving my flag, know that I remember. If you see tears running down my face as the soldiers march by, know that I remember.

I remember the first time I noticed how Michael could not stop moving. Even when he sat, his body kept moving in bouncing or jittery motions. We would later learn that Michael's nerves were damaged from the constant bombing and shelling.

I will never forget that day. I wish I could.

I remember when I first realized there was real trouble. I remember begging for help, and I remember being on my knees every night praying for strength and guidance and for the life of my son. I remember.

I will never know what it is like to go to war. I will never know what it is like to be surrounded by bombings and shellings 24 hours a day for 15 months straight. I will never know what it is like to try to sleep in a semi-trailer in temperatures of 100 degrees-plus because the air conditioning is broken. I will never know any of these things.

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But I will always know and always remember the battle that happens after the war. I will always remember my family’s and my own scars from fighting a fight none of us was prepared for.

No, freedom is not free, and I will always remember that.

Janice Laurie lives in Esko. She posted a version of this on Facebook.

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Janice Laurie

Related Topics: VETERANS
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