U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross op-ed: A painful truth

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Last year, a Florida first-grader named Madison was sitting on the floor of her classroom during story time when she received one of the biggest surprises of her life. Her father, having just returned from serving overseas for a year, walked into her classroom still wearing his fatigues. When she saw him, she jumped up and threw her arms around him.

Truly, loved ones cherish the moment when their veteran returns home. But what about our heroes who do not come home?

What about the wife who opens the door expecting a neighbor, but instead is met with two pairs of Marine eyes solemnly staring back at her when they deliver the news that makes her heart stop?

The families of these courageous veterans who were killed in action have experienced anguish and horror to which few can relate.

These are the ones who gave the ultimate sacrifice; they left their all on the battlefield serving their fellow countrymen to the end. So many families across the country remember their lives on a daily, if not hourly, basis, being left only with what Abraham Lincoln called “the cherished memory of the loved and lost.”

For those of us fortunate enough to have had our loved ones who served return home, Memorial Day serves as a day for us all to stand in solidarity and pay tribute to those who, as Lincoln wrote, “laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom.”

The battlefield is not discerning. It does not distinguish you by the color of your skin or the money in your bank account. There is only one thing it knows — that you are fighting for something. For all of those men and women who never got a chance to return to their loved ones, those who left behind families and friends to fight on behalf of our rights and freedoms, may we always remember and never forget.

When I think about those who do not make it home, I am struck by the fact that they fought and died so their fellow citizens could enjoy the freedoms we all hold dear, but at a price bought and paid for by the blood of these, our country’s heroes.

There are so many oppressive countries and governments around the world. Their leaders tell citizens where they can and cannot go, what they can and cannot say, when they can and cannot assemble, and to whom they can and cannot pray.

America’s founding was premised on the rejection of such tyranny, based instead on the principles of the liberties given to us by God. Among these liberties are the freedoms guaranteed to us by our Constitution: freedom of religion, freedom to hold meetings and join groups, freedom to get involved in government, and freedom of speech.

We have a duty to honor our lost heroes by doing all that we can to protect these rights for which they valiantly fought. Freedom isn’t free.

Their passing will not be in vain. We will always stand up for these freedoms and strive to honor the service and sacrifice of those who fell on the battlefield, from Kandahar to Anbar, Saigon to Normandy, and Gettysburg to Bunker Hill.

Every day is a day to thank a veteran for his or her service. But on this Memorial Day, let us especially remember those who have given the ultimate sacrifice — and why.

Cling to your freedoms. Exercise your rights. Pray for our troops. Let us never take them for granted.

Dennis Ross, R-Lakeland, represents the 15th District, which consists of parts of Hillsborough and Polk counties, in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.