Friday, September 9, 2011

Lincoln, MO and September 11th

Lincoln, MO. Population: 1089.
Rural Missouri.
A thousand miles from New York City.

The school in Lincoln, MO held an assembly today on their football field. Kindergartners to seniors filled the bleachers.
Air Force personnel from Whiteman AFB were asked to speak to the students about September 11th. Many of the students weren't even alive. The speeches were inspiring. A call to remember.
Just as inspirational is the town of Lincoln.
2976 forks placed on the football field by students. One for every person who died on September 11th.
That's a lot of time putting forks on a field...just to remember.
This little town in Lincoln, MO fighting to not forget.
That should encourage the victims of 9-11.
Lincoln, Missouri will remember...and they will make sure their children remember.

My husband agreed to speak. He was honored to have the opportunity. He could talk of freedom all day long. Here's his speech:

Good morning. I consider it an honor to come here to speak to the future of the United States on the 10th anniversary of September 11, 2001. I spent several days lamenting over what to say, what advice to give. I couldn't come up with any sage words of advice. Instead, I pondered what makes America great. America's greatness comes from you...and from others like you that come together under a common belief: freedom. Thomas Jefferson captured the foundation of American greatness when he penned these words in the Declaration of Independence: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness." America united behind these words then and continues to unite behind them today. Our belief in freedom is one of the foundations of America. Our defense of freedom is why we are here today and one of the reasons I am in the military.

A little background---I grew up in small town Georgia, played high school sports including the greatest sport, football. I was blessed to continue to play football at the United States Air Force Academy. Honestly, I went to play football. Most of our football team accepted our Air Force Academy appointment just so we could play football. We were under-sized. Under-talented. Under-appreciated by bigger schools. As we played together through the years, I was able to see a group of young, small football players turn into an outstanding team of brothers, committed to each other, desiring never to let the other down. Winning football games was only part of it. By my senior year, the cadets had a greater perspective. Our commitment to each other went beyond the football field. We knew that together we would be counted on to defend our country, to defend freedom. This perspective had a calming effect on everyone. We could handle adversity better than most teams because football wasn't the end for us. We were going to be a team much longer. We actually were able to defeat more talented teams simply because we were a part of something bigger than just playing football.

Following graduation, I was commissioned as an officer in the Air Force. I eventually became an A-10 pilot in 1998. As a first assignment I was stationed in Germany. Within weeks of moving to Germany came Operation Allied Force. We were sent to protect Kosovo from Serbia. Next, Operation Southern Watch. We flew the no-fly zone in Southern Iraq to protect the Shi'ite Muslims from Saddam Hussein. In Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring freedom, we have been defending America against future attacks, but also defending Iraqi and Afghan people from Saddam Hussein, Osama Bin Laden, and those that threaten the potential for freedom in these countries. In every operation, I have been blessed to stand side-by-side better men and women than myself to defend freedom. Have we really defended our freedom in these operations? Debatable. In each and every operation, we were defending other people's freedom---the Shi'ites, the Kosovars, the Iraqi people, the Afghan people.

We don't know what it's like to not be free. You've always been free. I've always been free. Freedom is something Americans often take for granted. Have you ever seen someone who wasn't free? I don't mean someone in poverty. I understand we have poverty in America. I myself came from humble beginnings. But here in America, we do have a choice. We have the potential and the freedom to do something different. Many places in the world, including the countries mentioned earlier, they don't have that freedom. In fact, many of those countries are struggling to grasp freedom and to embrace the chance for freedom provided by the United States and our allies. These people have a look---a look of despair, a look of hopelessness. But these looks are gradually growing more hopeful. You have been a part of that. You have enabled the United States military and other agencies to provide hope to millions of people. You can see that in both Afghanistan and Iraq. Voter turn-out in these countries is astounding...even in the midst of intimidation and death threats. Only one thing motivates these people to risk their lives...the opportunity for freedom.

Back to 9/11. I had just left Germany and arrived at an A-10 training base in Tucson, Arizona when 9/11 occurred. I remember watching the aircraft crash into the towers in New York in shock and in anger. We were under attack and I wanted to defend my country, defend freedom...and I wasn't in any position to do that now. In fact, I would have to wait two more years until 2003. I knew I would have to train people that would be going overseas to defend our country...and that made me angry too. I could only sit and watch. But in watching, I saw the fear and courage of hundreds of Americans in New York and Washington D.C. I saw unassuming people stand tall in the face of danger to save their fellow Americans. People risking lives for those they didn't know. Many were first-responders. Many were not. Many just acted in a way succinctly described by former President George W. Bush when he stated the following after 9/11:

Great tragedy has come to us, and we are meeting it with the best that is in our country, with courage and concern for others because this is America. This is who we are. (George W. Bush)

This is who we are. We do respond with courage and concern for others. We do pay freedoms' price. As President Kennedy said years ago,

The cost of freedom is always high, but Americans have always paid it. And one path we shall never choose, and that is the path of surrender, or submission. ( John F. Kennedy)

Your military through the years---consisting of many only slightly older than yourselves---have stood up for America and for Freedom. These people have done amazing things--saving lives, risking their own lives, making decisions at a moment's notice saving civilian lives. These people have paid the price, have sacrificed. Their families have sacrificed. My sacrifice has been minimal. Many Army and Marine troops have been deployed five of the last ten years. Why? Freedom. Freedom and the chance to ensure all American families have the chance to live out the ideals of our Declaration of Independence. No other military in the world has done this or sacrificed so much. Is it our excellent training or superb technology? No, not totally. It's the people. People just like you.

President Ronald Reagan put it this way,

Above all, we must realize that no arsenal, or no weapon in the arsenals of the world, is so formidable as the will and moral courage of free men and women. It is a weapon our adversaries in today's world do not have. (Ronald Reagan)

So why is all this important? I won't be wearing a military uniform forever. My days in a uniform are numbered. You are the future of America. You will be the ones to defend freedom in that future. You will have to decide that you will not let your brother or sister down. This applies to everything you do---whether it's a football game tonight, school, or life. Will you meet the challenges of the future with courage? You will be afraid. I tell my own children, you can't have courage without fear. That's one definition of courage: the willingness to something in spite of your fears. So, as we remember the 10th anniversary of 9/11, let's declare we will stand for freedom. We will stand for each other. We still stand for America. Thank you and God bless.

Preston McConnell

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