Thankful for the courage to be free

Posted: Nov 25, 2003 12:00 AM

This Thanksgiving I am thankful for my family, the small miracles of life and Bill Parcells. (After Parcells led the Cowboys to a 7-2 record this year, I put him in my will. He's getting my gnocchi press, which makes the best gnocchi - fat, juicy and delicious. But I digress).

I love this time of year. For the 30 or so days leading up to Thanksgiving, I spend tortured nights dreaming of enormous turkeys, candied yams and the soft, sweet taste of raisin cake. When I'm not getting dragged into the undertow of these sensual food cravings, I also pause to appreciate the pleasures that the people in my life bring. Like the fact that my mother has about 20 smiles, each one still brings comfort to my world. Or the inexpressible joy of seeing my family gathered together for the holidays. Or the belly laugh I get when I watch cranberry sauce drip down my brother Kent's chin. (We kid because we love.) For the opportunity to share some time with my loved ones, I am grateful.

This Thanksgiving, however, our troops will be stationed far away from home. They will not be able to sit down and celebrate Thanksgiving with their families.

Some have left behind family members, like Tara Hunter, whose husband Simeone was killed in action. "On Oct. 1, they say he was patrolling an area in Al Karada - I guess that was in Iraq or Baghdad - and that they were chanting - someone was chanting, and a civilian just came out of the crowd and shot him in the neck," Tara said.

Tara is pregnant with Simeone's son. Their daughter is 2 years old. "My son never got to meet his father, and I know that he never will." When Tara wakes up in the morning, she sometimes has to remind herself that Simeone is dead. "I - I wake up every morning not sure if it really happened. It's hard to believe at this point now." It is the definition of absurdity that an entire life should end so quickly, and at the hand of a stranger."

So, for Tara, what is there to be thankful for?

"I know that, one day, my children are gonna grow up, they're gonna ask why or who their dad is or where he is," she explains. "And I just feel so bad for them because they won't - we don't have him here. I'm gonna tell them what happened. I'm going to tell them that he is a hero for doing what he did. He was giving up his life for our country."

In this country, we often confuse fame with greatness. We refer to actors and politicians as great. The conflict in Iraq, however, provides us with a better perspective. Good soldiers, good people, are returning to the United States in caskets. They made the ultimate sacrifice in order to make the world a safer place. If there is a ray of hope in this tragedy, it resides in the willingness of our soldiers to risk their lives to defend this country. Many of these soldiers knew there was a chance they would die. They went anyway. Regardless of whether or not you support this war, we should always remain thankful that there are people who enlist in the military, people who are willing to die in order to defend us. This is greatness.

Historian Paul Johnson famously dubbed the American experiment as "the greatest of all human adventures," the aim of which was to endow citizens with those basic rights they associate with happiness. Terrorist leaders thought they could rip apart that spirit. Instead, their acts of brutality only illuminate the best that we have to offer. Plainly, Americans still have the courage to be free.

For this we should all be thankful.