May 28, 2013
So much of our attention on Memorial Day goes to the service and time spent by our troops in preserving the life of freedom in the United States, that I got to thinking just what it was that the military service has protected for me. It amounts to another Thanksgiving Day in my life.
Every time I see another military person I think how they’ve protected my life and those around me. Sure I’ve lost some loved ones in the process, but I knew that was going to happen and it wasn’t because they were victims of some foreign country or ideology which was being imposed on the country. They had rich, full lives where they were able to choose the course of their existence.
That certainly has been true for me. Nearly four decades ago I traveled to Hot Springs, Arkansas, not knowing what might be ahead of me. I found the town after some difficulty, since Hot Springs is not in Hot Spring county. But, what I found here has profoundly impacted my life and many of those around me.
Oaklawn Park rapidly became the major focus of my existence. In being so focused on Oaklawn I lost some of the close relationships I had, but quickly found that, by dedicating one’s self to the surrounding community, you can create an existence with plenty of significance and lots of dependable friends.
I’ve been able to devote myself to the racetrack and the community with no interference. It’s a form of freedom which I don’t believe exists in other parts of the world.
Travel has been an important element in my personal growth. My travels have opened my eyes to many of the differences and similarities of life in other parts of the world. My travel has taken me primarily to Europe and to some parts of western Africa. My reading takes me elsewhere. In all of that diversion I never lose sight of the fact that the one place to be is the United States of America and largely that’s because we and our rights are protected by many who have placed service over self. Our servicemen aren’t largely required to maintain civility among people, although they are in many parts of the world.
But our servicemen have been required to assist in settling differences in other parts of the world. While they risk life and limb to defuse the fires of differences in other parts of the world, they are rarely required to do the same in our country. We have internal forces who look after our well-being and we can go about our daily routines fully secure that our military is looking after our basic security.
Clearly there are many Americans who are not clear about the motivations of those we call our enemies. I remember how strange it felt to ride around Germany in 2011, knowing that the people I’m seeing were our enemies. They seemed like normal folks, but they lived under the tyranny of Adolph Hitler and, like so many in the world, were basically afraid to voice opposing opinions. That attitude has changed in Germany and I never felt more welcome anywhere, even though I don’t speak the language.
Language has been an important dividing factor in many of our lives. So many of my friends who have visited France say they didn’t like it because the French were unapproachable and arrogant. I remind them of how we treat so many of the Hispanics who live within a short distance from us. When they don’t speak English, we tend to treat them like outsiders. It’s not all that different from the way the French treat many Americans. I find that, because I can speak some French, the French people are really quite kind to me. Back in the 60s and 70s, when I was equipped with Kennedy half-dollars, they couldn’t do enough for me in trade for the coins which bore the image of that international hero.
Because we largely share similar values, the Europeans have been our allies and offered home for American service personnel. Our civilization is called that because the people are largely “civilized” and not violent in nature. I can’t say the same is true in other parts of the world. Where Americans see people who desire to be “civilized”, we make the effort to help in troubled times. Our servicemen are our representatives. They aren’t often received well in other parts of the world, but they are assigned the duty to present “civilized” behavior in a violent world. It’s usually a very difficult assignment and often you have to fight fire with fire to get that message across.
Those people make life bearable for the rest of us on a daily basis. I can go to the races anytime I desire and can still work at Oaklawn thanks to the fact that some person or group of people aren’t trying to impose something other than complete freedom on to my life. I have no fight with freedom of any kind. It has made my live meaningful. I wish I could see freedom from cancer and poverty. Much of my free time is dedicated to those forced to live under such conditions. I will continue to engage in all of those activities as long as my body and spirit allow. However I know that I know my ability to do what I want is owed to the giving spirit of the men and women who have put self aside and defended our way of life.
I hope we open the doors of all racetracks to those who are military veterans. They have given so that the rest of us can enjoy just that freedom. In this week when Oaklawn hosts the local Relay For Life, I only hope that the freedom to pursue cures for cancer and assist people through poverty can continue for long after I’m gone. And may we be granted the population which sees freedom as the foundation for those worthy goals.