Saturday, May 24, 2008

Memorial Day and my freedom to write

Tomorrow and Monday are very important days for journalists to honor.

The days mark the sacrifice made to protect our freedom to write as we do. The First Amendment or whatever amendment to the U.S. Constitution is only as powerful as the willingness of our citizens and non-citizen immigrants to put their lives on the line.

Each person in uniform takes an oath to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution. I've never been asked to take such an oath as a journalist.

The graves that will be visited today and tomorrow represent my freedom to write as I do, along with other journalists -- whether we want to prominently acknowledge it or not. And the freedom to write, as Jefferson said, keeps our nation free by ensuring an informed citizenry. First, however, you have to have people willing to die for that freedom. That's what today and tomorrow are about.

It doesn't matter if the war in which the sacrifice took place was in Iraq or Vietnam or on Normandy. It is the willingness of men and women of the military to take orders from civilian leaders that keeps this nation free. They know their lives are on the line, and their families could be left damaged. Still, they go.

These men and women also are the force behind court decisions protecting individual constitutional rights of the most vulnerable, even if it means going into actual cities like the 82nd Airborne did in Little Rock in the 1950s to enforce a school desegregation order. The military and its members are not perfect. But they ultimately answer to us and our values. We determine those values at the ballot box.

So when I think of Memorial Day, I think of Marine Capt. Brent Morrell of Martin, Tenn. He died in Iraq four years ago saving his convoy from an ambush. He was the only person to die in the attack. As it says in scripture, greater love does no man have than to lay down his life for his friends. Morrell's parents, Mike and Molly, are two of the finest people I've ever known. I carry a Marine challenge pin with their son's name and day of sacrifice inscribed on the back. It is a reminder to me to conduct myself with the same kind of honor as their son.

I also think of Marine Cpl. Patrick Nixon of Gallatin, Tenn., who was one of the first American soldiers across the main bridge into Baghdad. He was killed leading the charge. I think of Marine Pvt. Jeremiah Savage, Marine Pvt. Tyler Cates and Marine Cpl. Tim Creager, all of Tennessee. To Eva, Pam, Patricia and Marilane, all I can say is an inadequate "thank you." Your loved one's sacrifice for my rights will never be forgotten as long as I can write.

Journalists also have been killed in battle, from Iraq to Normandy to other far away places. Their sacrifice to report the truth also is much appreciated.

Memorial Day means everything to me. It is a day, particularly for journalists, when we should show our deep appreciation.

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