On Sept. 11, 2001 our homeland was attacked in a vile perpetration of terror unlike anything we had ever witnessed on our shores. But out of the ashes rose a brand new generation of warriors, whose voices joined almost simultaneously in an ear-shattering crescendo, “You will pay! So help us God, you will never get away with it again!”
The Global War on Terror has now found its way into the annals of history as the longest war America has ever fought; beginning in October 2001 and continuing strong even as these words leave my mind and hit this page. Astoundingly, there has been no need—in all 13-plus years—to enact a draft. This epic battle has been fought by an all-volunteer military, an assemblage of men and women who I now consider to be the next greatest generation.
But there was a cost.
Over 50,000 of our sons and daughters have come home to our shores wounded and forever changed—burned, disfigured, limbless, struggling with traumatic brain injuries or post traumatic stress. I’ve spoken face-to-face with dozens of these heroes, and when asked if they would do it again, the answer is always, “Yes!”
Members of the U.S. Army honor guard lower the casket of U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Harold J. Greene during a full honors funeral service at Arlington National Cemetery, August 14, 2014 in Washington, DC. Greene was shot and killed as he visited Afghanistan's national military academy in Kabul, Afghanistan. He is the highest ranking Army officer killed in combat since the Vietnam War. Mark Wilson/Getty Images
Almost 7,000 of our best and brightest came home from the war zones of Iraq and Afghanistan in flag-draped coffins. Average age: 26.5 years old. But go ahead, ask the families of those fallen heroes if their sons, daughters, husbands, wives, mothers, or fathers would do it again given the chance and most will inevitably give you the same answer.
“You’d better believe they would.”
My deceased son, Special Operations Chief Aaron Vaughn, never took for granted a single day of his life that he’d been blessed enough to have been born in the United States of America, where men are free. He honored our history. He studied the cost and privately prayed that if he lost his life young, he’d lose it fighting for his country—dying to preserve the dream.
As a child, he hung on every word his father shared about the great battles, the great moments of conquest in America’s long, tireless, faith-filled past.
So when it was Aaron’s time to fight, to take his place in history, he fought with all he had. He chose to be the man in the arena—to defend, protect, and preserve for his children what had been defended, protected, and preserved for him. And he entered the battle eyes wide open.
At times he expressed frustration with our current culture. It seemed to him the vast majority of our citizenry were completely disengaged with the reality that men and women were dying for their right to live self-absorbed lives.
However, any time he found himself going down that road, he’d quickly turn his thoughts: “But hey, that’s why I do what I do. So they’ll have the liberty to be anything they choose to be.”
Aaron and others like him do not fight because they hate what’s in front of them. They fight because they love what’s behind them. They know America, with all her flawed citizens, all her faults, failures, and divisions, all her bumps and bruises, is still the greatest land on earth—the shining city on the hill, the hope of all nations.
The evidence is everywhere. All you have to do is look around.
Over the past three years I’ve been forced to ponder a haunting question that arises in conversation from time to time: “Was America worth it?”
You want to know why my answer to that question is, “Absolutely, unequivocally, yes”? It’s because I see the beauty in what’s been handed to me—what’s been fought for on my behalf.
Take a moment tomorrow and drive by a playground full of laughing children. Or grab a ticket to a local Friday night high school football game. You’ll see it, too.
Next time you’re enjoying a backyard barbeque with family and friends, take a moment to step away from the noise and truly reflect on the blessings right in front of your eyes. You’ll see it.
As you worship freely this Sunday, with no threat of retribution. Or assemble yourself at any imaginable venue, discussing any imaginable topic. You’ll see it.
Everywhere I look I see the reason Aaron Vaughn gave his life. And I know in my heart he’d do it again without hesitation.
He loved America.
We are the land of the free only because of the brave. And thank God, the brave keep begetting brave and our legacy of hope continues.
Recently it was brought to my attention that ours is the only National Anthem that ends with a question mark. Every generation has been and will continue to be tasked with their own response. From the lips of Benjamin Franklin: “We have given you a republic. It remains to be seen if you can keep it.”
Speaking on behalf of my son I can tell you this with great clarity. Aaron Vaughn was keenly aware that he might lose his life one day, fighting for this nation. He had only one expectation should that fate befall him: that others would come behind him, take up their own sword and shield, and continue protecting the land he gave his life for—lest his sacrifice be in vain.
At times I feel discouraged about the condition of our country. I feel like we’ll never again know the value system I grew up with, the one I raised my children with. It looks, at times, like all hope is lost. But in those fear-stricken moments I hear the voices of those who’ve gone before me, crying from their graves, “Don’t you dare give up!”
America is worth it.
Karen Vaughn is the Gold Star Mother of Navy SEAL Aaron Vaughn – who was killed on August 6th, 2011, while serving in Afghanistan. After her son’s death, Karen and her husband Billy (Author of “Betrayed”) have dedicated themselves to defending America’s defenders. She is the founder of “For Our Son” and is an active voice for Concerned Veterans for America.
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