On July Fourth, Medal of Honor recipients remind us freedom isn't free | Opinion

·4 min read

The Fourth of July is a great day to spend with your family — to barbecue, relax by the pool or watch fireworks. It’s also when we celebrate our nation’s birth, because July Fourth is the day the Second Constitutional Congress unanimously adopted the Declaration of Independence, boldly declaring our freedom from British rule. It is one thing to declare independence; it is another thing entirely to actually be free.

The British monarchy did not simply receive our Declaration of Independence and say, “OK, America, you are free now.” We had to fight for our freedom. The parchment upon which the Declaration of Independence was penned would be worth nothing if George Washington and his army had not defeated the British. Make no mistake — the cost of our liberty must be measured by the tens of thousands of American patriots who died to win it.

Hershel W. “Woody” Williams holds the Medal of Honor he received from President Harry Truman on Oct. 5, 1945.
Hershel W. “Woody” Williams holds the Medal of Honor he received from President Harry Truman on Oct. 5, 1945.

Hundreds of thousands of American soldiers died during World War II to protect our way of life. All told, millions of people perished in what was the deadliest military conflict in history. By some estimates, as much as 3% of the world’s population at the time was erased. Ask yourself how free the world would be if the Axis powers had prevailed.

Medal of Honor recipients Leroy A. Petry, left, and Ty Carter answer questions as they visit Sacred Heart Cathedral School on Sept. 12, 2014. (NEWS SENTINEL FILE PHOTO)
Medal of Honor recipients Leroy A. Petry, left, and Ty Carter answer questions as they visit Sacred Heart Cathedral School on Sept. 12, 2014. (NEWS SENTINEL FILE PHOTO)

As Franklin Roosevelt famously said, “In the truest sense, freedom cannot be bestowed; it must be achieved.” That’s why the Medal of Honor is so significant and why the recipients of our nation’s highest military decoration are emblematic of all our brave men and women in uniform.

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Joe Thompson
Joe Thompson

The living recipients will be in Knoxville in September as they gather to celebrate the courage, integrity, sacrifice, commitment, citizenship and patriotism of those who have passed on and to uphold and share these ideals that bind them together.

U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Leroy A. Petry lost his right hand when he grabbed a grenade to save his men while serving in Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom. Petry received the Medal of Honor from President Barack Obama on July 12, 2011. At that time, he was only the second living recipient of the medal for actions occurring after the Vietnam War. Leroy retired as a master sergeant and now serves as president of the Congressional Medal of Honor Society; he will be in attendance at the Medal of Honor Celebration in Knoxville in September.

Medal of Honor recipient retired U.S. Marine Corps Chief Warrant Officer 4 Hershel W. “Woody” Williams attended the flag-raising ceremony at the East Tennessee Veterans Memorial in September 2021. Raising the Congressional Medal of Honor Society Flag is a solemn and powerful rite that signifies the passing of the torch from the previous year’s celebration city. Woody was at Iwo Jima when the American flag was raised on Mount Suribachi, so having him here in Knoxville for our event was truly special.

He received the Medal of Honor from President Harry Truman on Oct. 5, 1945, and subsequently served his fellow Medal of Honor recipients as chaplain for many years. Williams, who was chaplain emeritus of the Congressional Medal of Honor Society, died Wednesday at the age of 98 in Charleston, West Virginia.

These men are my heroes, and I’m humbled to call them my friends as well. They are personal reminders for me that freedom is not free. We must constantly fight to preserve our liberties. Our collective freedom is paid for by the sacrifice of the brave men and women who defend our nation, many of whom pay for our privilege with their lives.

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The Medal of Honor Celebration is a unique opportunity for our community to honor our nation’s greatest heroes, to celebrate our hard-won freedom and to thank those who helped secure it. Please join me in welcoming these living legends to our great city.

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And while you’re cooking out or spending time with friends and family this weekend, take a few minutes to contemplate how lucky we all are to enjoy the liberties we have and often take for granted, and to thank our servicemen and women for helping to protect and preserve them.

Joe Thompson is the chairman of the 2022 Medal of Honor Celebration and managing director at Raymond James. He may be reached at Joe.Thompson@raymondjames.com.

This article originally appeared on Knoxville News Sentinel: On July Fourth, Medal of Honor recipients remind us freedom isn't free