American children at a very young age are taught to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. Most Americans remember that exciting day in kindergarten when it was “your turn” to lead the class in our beloved pledge. I vividly remember raising our precious red, white and blue flag as high as I could in the air and proudly professing “I pledge allegiance” while the remainder of the class joined in unison. Such patriotic times remain embedded in our minds. But have you ever taken time to think about who exactly paid the price for your freedom?

Freedom is not free. All of us are able to enjoy the fruits of freedom because good men and women from the road to independence in 1776 to the present day have fought to preserve our democracy. Although estimates vary, it is certain that more than 1 million Americans have died defending this great nation. Due to their immeasurable dedication, these heroes, past and present, have earned our utmost respect and gratitude.

Today, every single soldier, sailor, Marine, airman and Coast Guardsman serving has volunteered to serve in our armed forces. They have dedicated their lives, and their families, to the cause of freedom. These few brave men and women serve without complaint and remain focused on preserving the American way of life. They have chosen to fight for our country so that American families can have fulfilling lives.

Serving in our military requires tremendous dedication and sacrifice. As the grateful son of a World War II Flying Tiger and as a 31-year veteran of the Army Reserve and the Army National Guard and a proud father of four sons currently serving in the military, I know firsthand the sacrifices our troops make to protect this great nation. I believe military service is a great opportunity to promote freedom, learn extraordinary skills and have a worldwide experience of networking with patriotic colleagues around the globe.

From back-to-back deployments to rigorous training, our troops have put the support of America and the ideals for which she stands above personal desires and preferences. Whether it is leaving a small child, a new spouse or a dear parent, our troops are required to leave their loved ones at home for a length of time to take on the responsibilities assumed upon them when joining the military. Missing the birth of a newborn, birthdays, graduations, anniversaries and other milestones are difficult, but our troops are able to follow through, relying on one another, because of their commitment to defending our freedom.

Our brave men and women in uniform dedicate their lives on freedom’s behalf, but we must also not forget the sacrifices made by our military families. When our troops make the decision to become a member of the armed forces, their families also agree to put America’s interests above their own. These husbands, wives, children and parents provide our troops with the support necessary to successfully fulfill their military obligations. 

When our troops deploy, our military families support our men and women in uniform, providing the assurance and comfort necessary while separated from their families. Our spouses begin serving as both mother and father to young children. Our military children take on more responsibilities at home, offering help to their single parent and serving as mentors to other children experiencing the grief of an absent mom or dad. Whenever hardships arise in the home, the spouse settles the matter quietly as to not take away from our brave men and women in uniform’s focus of protecting our nation. 

As Memorial Day approaches, I ask that each of you take time to remember those we have lost and offer a quick “thank you” to our veterans and those still fighting for our nation. And more importantly, thank their families, because without the support of these loved ones, our brave men and women in uniform would not be able to effectively defend and protect America’s unique freedoms, promising “liberty and justice for all.”

Wilson serves on the House Armed Service Committee and Foreign Affairs Committee.

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