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The Rev. Dr. Thomas Lane Butts The Rev. Dr. Thomas Lane Butts

The Rev. Dr. Thomas Lane Butts is minister emeritus of First United Methodist Church in Monroeville, AL.

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Dr. Thomas Lane Butts: Freedom Is Never Cheap

July 02, 2009

Freedom Is Never Cheap

As we celebrate Independence Day, how can we remind this generation that many people died to give us a unique freedom about which so many seem so casual? There are countless examples of courage that have preserved our freedom. Let me tell you one of them.

In his book, And No Bird Sang, Farley Mowatt tells a touching story that comes from the Canadian Armed Forces' involvement in the assault on Sicily and Rome during World War II.

Mowatt was a very young, eager, sensitive and idealistic junior officer. He had a colleague by the name of Alex Campbell who was just the opposite. Alex was wounded early in the war, but returned from a North African hospital for a final battle near the end of Mowatt's account. While in the hospital he had tried his hand at poetry, which he timidly shared with Mowatt when he returned. When Mowatt read the poetry and saw that this scathless pillar of a man had been afraid too, he was shocked. The poem was a prayer that he would be able to manage his fear in such a way that the men he led would say of him afterward: "He was a man".

On Christmas Day a bone-weary sergeant returned from a terrible battle in which Campbell's company had been cut to pieces. That is how Mowatt found out how Alex Campbell died. Seventh Platoon had been pinned down by murderous machine gun fire. The logical move for Campbell would have been to use one of the other platoons to outflank the guns, but instead he did the unexpected--and inexplicable. Seizing a tommy gun, he drew his great bulk to its full height, gave an inarticulate bellow, and charged straight at the enemy.

After no more than three or four paces he was riddled with bullets. He crashed into the mud like a falling colossus. During that timeless interval, both his own men and the Germans were so stunned by his action that not a further shot was fired by either side. The sergeant gave his graphic impression of the event as he ground out his cigarette and looked at Mowatt with puzzled eyes: "It was the bravest... thing I ever saw...and the craziest. Crazy, but Jesus, what a man".

Standing there among the dead and the wounded, Mowatt, for the first time, began to weep. Thirty-five years later Mowatt was still asking if his tears were for Alex Campbell, the wounded or all the others who were gone and who were yet to go? "Or was I weeping for myself...and those who would remain?"

No person ever remains the same when they realize that they live in a world in which someone died for them. We are all here, as we are today, because many have died for us. The proper response is to weep and be humbly grateful that such courage did exist--and still does, in the most unexpected places.

Freedom is never cheap. Somebody pays for it. Do not forget those who paid the ultimate price so that you and I can enjoy a unique freedom.

 


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