Vidakovich column: Exercising our freedom of speech |

Vidakovich column: Exercising our freedom of speech

Mike Vidakovich

The true meaning of that last Monday in May when we all get the cherished three-day weekend never quite hit home with me until recently. Like many of you, I’ve regarded Memorial Day as an extra day off to charge up the batteries as we dive headlong into summer fun. There is the Indianapolis 500 car race, day baseball games, the mass gathering of running humanity known as the Bolder Boulder, plenty of barbecues, and of course, lots of flag saluting. I always understood the day was in honor of those who gave their lives for what we have today, but since none of my immediate family members ever served in the military, no special attention was given to the end of May, other than a day of no work and a bit of extra rest.

This all changed for me last spring, as Memorial Day was approaching and I was at Glenwood Elementary helping a teacher I greatly admire finish up some end-of-the-year chores. I never knew much about her past, even though I met her several years ago, having coached her daughter on the basketball team at Glenwood Springs High School. I did remember her telling me once that she had served in the United States Navy, so I had an idea the upcoming weekend was a time of reflection for her.

As we were attempting to put things in order in a storage area near the main office, the conversation turned to her family’s involvement in the military, and how a Sunday morning in 1968 changed her life forever.

Even though almost 50 years had passed since that day when she was a little girl, the knock on the front door of her home, and her mother’s cries of anguish as she was given the news that her son had been killed in Vietnam, were as clear as the skies above, and suddenly, the family’s regular Sunday trip to church was now just a memory that would never be repeated.

She couldn’t quite get through the entire recollection of that day. Her voice began to waver as she smiled at me and shook her head a bit. Her brother’s company had been ambushed, and he had passed away on the helicopter ride away from the battlefield. She told me her mother had never been the same since that day. I can certainly see why.

I found myself with a deep feeling of sadness when she said her brother was just 20 years old. I couldn’t begin to imagine being in her place as a young child, losing a loved one and trying to make sense of the world, and a war being fought in a country so far away from home.

When I saw her at school a couple of days later, I thanked her for sharing the story. I know how difficult it must have been to revisit that day so far removed from youth. I also told her how much I had learned from her about being appreciative for the special place that I live, and the things I often mistakenly take for granted. She is a person of experience, old fashioned values and wisdom. The brief instances I got to spend talking with her last school year, not just that day, always left me feeling better for the time I had spent.

When Memorial Day arrived, I still slept in a little, and tuned in the Bolder Boulder on the television. Maybe one of these years I’ll get the gumption to run it and go trotting into Folsom Field the way the Buffaloes do on a crisp and colorful day in autumn. I never pay much attention to the Indianapolis 500, and I haven’t since a day in 1969 when I listened on the car radio as a young man named Mario Andretti came from nowhere to shock the racing world. I did take the time though, to think about why we celebrate this day, and how lucky I was to have much of my family near. Many sacrifices were made for all of us, and many lives were changed in the process, even the ones who didn’t go overseas to fight for America.

Thanks to my friend at school, I understand more now what that last Monday in May is all about for so many people. I am grateful to those who put their lives on the line to represent the United States, and to the families of soldiers who remained at home, hoping and praying each day for the safe return of a family member.

Many of you are aware of the protests that are taking place in sports venues across our country during the playing of the national anthem. I do understand that the people responsible for this have the best intentions at heart, and I hope they achieve their goal of equal rights and fair treatment for all Americans, but I don’t believe for a minute that they are going about the process of bringing change to social injustices in the right or proper manner.

The anthem, the United States flag, and especially the young men and women who have made so many sacrifices, including giving their lives, so that we have our freedoms in this country, especially the freedom of speech, should be honored at this time by all of us, regardless of what our beliefs may be, or the color of our skin.

When I see these wonderfully talented, millionaire athletes kneeling on the sidelines of a football field, or bowing their heads and raising a black-gloved fist toward the heavens during a time when all Americans should be giving thanks for what we have, I get angry, but mostly I am saddened. When I see these protests, I think back to the conversation with my friend last May about the loss of a brother, or the morning in mid-August this summer, as myself and a friend stood at the starting line of the Pyro’s Push It Up Trail Run on a beautiful morning on the Flat Tops, and listened as Donna and Ham DuBois tearfully recounted stories of their son Will, who was lost to them while defending our country in the Middle East in 2014.

Maybe I am too old-fashioned, or maybe I’m just old. I’ll keep trying to understand, and respect the views of all people, no matter how much they differ from my own, but there is a time and place for these discussions and disagreements, as long as they remain healthy and peaceful. My opinion is only one, but the national anthem of the United States of America is a time to show respect and gratitude for this great country we live in. Not to protest.

Mike Vidakovich writes freelance for the Post Independent.

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