My earliest memories of celebrating Veterans Day as a child are drawn to the freedom-themed services my church organized each year around the holiday.
During the opening minutes of the service, the music pastor would lead the church orchestra in a melody of the anthems representing the different military branches.
As the music played, military men and women stood to their feet as their branch was represented.
I always tried to fight back a few tears in my eye, but remembered it to be one of my favorite times of the year.
Some of the individuals had been my Sunday School teachers. Others were parents of my friends.
Even as I matured, this was the routine of Veterans Day in my mind.
That all changed this year.
For the first time, I lost someone I knew personally to war.
First Lt. David A. Johnson was among the 400 students in my graduating class at Evangel University in Springfield.
During our graduation exercises, Johnson, who had been a leader in activities across the campus and in his ROTC program, was commissioned as an officer.
As editor of our student newspaper that year, I remembered Johnson always being gracious and lending his time for interview here and there.
He was a well-liked individual all over campus. He was also a natural leader.
A year ago, on Veterans Day, Johnson was invited back to campus as a special guest before his upcoming deployment.
At the time Johnson had recently been given command of an infantry platoon in the 3rd Brigade Combat Team of the 2nd Infantry Division, based at Ft. Lewis, Washington.
Just six weeks after his departure, Johnson was killed in action in the Kandahar Province of Afghanistan.
Johnson had been leading his platoon to a building where improvised explosive devices were being made.
There was a firefight and as Johnson went down an interior hallway, he stepped on an IED.
He was 24 years old.
Memorials were held throughout the country following his death -- at Evangel, his home in Mayville, Wisc. where his parents are the publishers of small community newspaper, and ultimately, at his resting place, Arlington National Cemetery.
He was awarded a Bronze Star and Purple Heart for his service.
One year after Johnson took his last steps on campus -- our alma mater honored Johnson’s legacy again during a Veterans Day tribute Nov. 13, with his family in attendance.
While Johnson’s death is a reminder that freedom comes with a cost, I realize that the fight is ongoing.
Around the time of Johnson’s death, I was handed the news that another friend, Rachel Cook, was being sent to Afghanistan, too, as a Staff Sergeant in the U.S. Air Force Reserves.
Cook tells me that during her service she witnessed firsthand the hardship other countries experience and the extremes resulted in order to achieve a livelihood like ours in America.
She said that many Americans often take for granted our independence and luxuries, but that they are freedoms she is proud to defend -- and that being given the opportunity to protect has enhanced her definition of the phrase, “I’m proud to be an American.”
This year, the observance of Veterans Day has given me a renewed sense as to what this day represents.
As I attended a special Veterans Day ceremony Nov. 9 around the flagpole at the City Hall in Raymore, and the Belton Veterans Day parade the following day, I was a little more grateful, and a little more teary-eyed, for those freedoms.
Bethany Bashioum is a reporter/photographer for the Cass County Democrat Missourian. She can be reached at 816-380-2228 Ext. 2227 or at email@example.com.