Three Green Berets and a bottle of bourbon

Occasionally people have enough self-awareness that they understand when something they are witnessing is bigger than themselves – moments such as when man stepped on the moon for the first time and September 11, 2001.

Abe Lincoln had clarity of purpose and place when he used a mere 272 words in the Gettysburg Address to remind us that the “government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

His task was to dedicate a great bloody battlefield as a resting place for the valiant soldiers who had fought there; he knew his words could not capture or match the valor or their deeds.

Abe said it this way, “In a larger sense, we cannot dedicate – we cannot consecrate – we cannot hallow – this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract.”

Recently at a funeral for a friend, I had the privilege to meet three men that had traveled to bury one of their brothers in arms.

These men were Special Forces Green Berets Caleb Brewer, Sergeant First Class; Spenser Lake, Staff Sergeant; and Ed Cook, Warrant Officer. They had trained alongside my friend at Fort Bragg.

These men had reached out to me because they wanted to meet the man who had written the article “Cookies for Gino.”

I met them after the funeral in the church parking lot. These three men walked up to me, wanted to shake my hand, and had brought me a gift (a bottle of bourbon) to let me know how much they appreciated what I had written. They were grateful that I captured the struggle of one of their brothers in arms whose experience is common to so many others.

I was shaken to the core. These three soldiers were true American heroes. One had fought alongside Aaron Butler, one had lost both legs in the war, and one was a commander in the Green Berets.

And they were here to meet and honor me. I have never felt so humble and inadequate.

How could I explain that it was I who needed to express my appreciation and gratitude for their service and sacrifice?

We here in San Juan County know something about the price of freedom; some of our very finest have given all. There are parents, wives, grandparents, siblings, and friends who still experience a grief that can’t be spoken, but we are proud to salute and honor our service men and women.

My voice cracked with emotion as I tried to explain that the service and sacrifice that Aaron Butler, Jason Workman, and Nathan Winder had given for their country was so much more than my words could describe or pay tribute to.

My words could not capture or match the valor or their deeds. Like President Lincoln, I could not dedicate, consecrate, or hallow the ground they had just placed their fellow brother in.

It was clearly above my power to add or detract from the testimony of their lives of valor, honor, and dedication or their actions.

I have stood at the National Mall in D.C. and read the names of the 56 people who signed the Declaration of Independence. They were signing their death warrant, and they knew it.

What kind of courage and commitment does it take to stand up to evil and to a world superpower and tell them, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of happiness”?

Who even talks like that anymore?

Who so loved freedom that they were willing to give all they had. I was shaking the hand of three Green Berets who were, and I have known good men from San Juan County who did.

When Edmund Burke said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing,” our finest stood ready to do whatever was necessary.

Recently the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan has me wondering how much money, how many lives were given, how many sacrifices were given over 20 years – and then to walk away, seemingly to end up right back where we started.

Did we learn that freedom and self-governance is not a gift we can give to a country, rather it is something that must be earned, won when necessary, and passionately protected?

When Thomas Jefferson said, “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants,” he and our soldiers were willing to die for the principles of living life on their terms, having liberty to do as their conscience dictated and to pursue happiness.

Margaret Mead wrote, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world: indeed it’s the only thing that ever has.”

Our boys from San Juan County didn’t want to die for us, but if that is what was asked, they bore that cross with honor and valor – because they knew that freedom is never free.

They were trying to change the world, by their commitment to words like “freedom” but most importantly by their selfless deeds to serve our country.

I salute these fine young men, these Special Forces Green Berets that taught me a lesson in tradition, honor, valor, and service.

And I salute and honor the fine men and women from San Juan County. Like our local veterans, these Green Berets are the best America has to offer.

I have written enough to know that this week’s award-winning article is next week’s kitty litter liner. I know the “world will little note, nor long remember” what I say in my newspaper column.

But I believe our work is to continue living, to be inspired by their service is how we honor those that have served this country.

“It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced.”

San Juan Record

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