I grew up in what was then West Germany, the son of two American teachers instructing the children of military personnel deployed there to keep a lid on the Cold War between the West and the Soviet Union.
I was there when the Berlin Wall fell and Eastern Europe began to open up. It was an extraordinary time to be in that part of the world, and we knew we were witnessing an important moment in history. It was a time of joy as families reunited for the first time in a generation, literal walls and barriers came crashing down, and human rights became a fact in areas of the world where they’d been trampled on for decades.
But the opening up also had some unintended consequences. I remember being on a bus tour of what was then Yugoslavia. Our tour guide spoke about the simmering ethnic tensions between Bosnians and Serbians and how it was like a powder keg waiting to explode. It sounded ominous to my young ears, but that tension wasn’t evident as we toured cities and towns across the country.
Only a few years later, the nightly news was filled with horror stories and images of civil war, massive bloodshed and ethnic cleansing. For months, the world watched as the death toll continued to rise with no resolution in sight.
Which brings me to the spring of 2021, and my adult life living in Clearwater, Florida. My normal barber wasn’t available and I badly needed a haircut after too many months working from home. So I went with a new guy named Max.
Max was from Bosnia and his family are ethnic Albanians. We talked as he cut my hair and I discovered that he’d only been living in the U.S. for 18 months. I asked what he thought of the U.S. and without any hesitation he said, “This is the greatest country in the world.”
I asked what he thought of the U.S. and without any hesitation he said, “This is the greatest country in the world.”
He went on to tell me that the U.S. military saved him and his entire extended family when they took part in Operation Allied Force in 1999 to stop the ethnic cleansing of Albanians in Serbia. It made me actually tear up to hear how grateful this adult man was to the U.S. soldiers who risked their lives to save him as a boy, and to save the lives of every member of his extended family.
As we look to July 4th and our celebration of U.S. independence, I am always reminded of my time around the U.S. military—those men and women, husbands, wives, and children who give so much to protect not only the freedom of U.S. citizens but the freedom of good people all over the world. I will forever be immensely proud to be an American and I’m constantly reminded on days like this of the words in our Pledge of Allegiance:
I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America
And to the Republic for which it stands
One nation, under God, indivisible,
With liberty and justice for all.
With liberty and justice for all. Such a simple concept and certainly the way the world should be. But freedom is never free and freedom isn’t necessarily the default or status quo on this planet. It is something which must be resolved, fought for and defended newly by each successive generation.
Today, I celebrate and give my humble thanks to all those who have made it possible for me and so many others here at home and around the world to live open, self-determined and happy lives of freedom.