I was just in Fort Chaffee, Arkansas, last weekend to celebrate and participate in the Veterans Day celebration. It was an emotional day for me because over 40 years ago, I arrived in the United …
I was just in Fort Chaffee, Arkansas, last weekend to celebrate and participate in the Veterans Day celebration.
It was an emotional day for me because over 40 years ago, I arrived in the United States as a refugee from Vietnam, and Fort Chaffee welcomed me. It was right here that I, along with over 50,000 refugees, started to learn about the American way of life.
I was able to come back and visit the camp because of a Vietnam veteran — Sgt. Major Adna Chaffee IV, grandson of Maj. Gen. Adna R. Chaffee, Jr., an artillery officer during World War I for whom the fort was named. The grandson heard my story about coming over from Saigon, Vietnam, and invited me to come join his family to celebrate the annual Veterans Day. I am so thankful and honored.
I was in this camp for four months in 1975, and it couldn’t have been more different than my country. One obvious observation was the weather. It was fresh and springlike, as opposed to the heat and mugginess of Vietnam. I suppose it fit the narrative — a new beginning, a new life for me. This place made me feel free.
And you’d say, of course you are free. It’s America! But I didn’t know what America meant at the time. Yes, I was free, but I was a kid. Fundamentally, most kids are free. That’s what’s awesome about being a kid.
As a restless 9-year-old, I roamed around the camp exploring and learning about this place since there wasn’t much to do. The only responsibility I had was to attend English class in the morning after breakfast, which I was happy to do. The rest of the time I did whatever I wanted.
I volunteered to work in the cafeteria, which afforded me many leftovers, which made me a hero to my family and other families staying in the same housing unit. I spent time playing in open fields with other children, and picking flowers with my cousins. Keeping ourselves entertained, I somehow obtained hundreds of can tabs and rubber bands, so I hooked them together to make crowns and jump ropes, respectively.
I was naively and ignorantly happy, just as a child ought to be.
Adjusting to a new place and culture was difficult, but somehow I knew that my future was exciting and bright. I began to subscribe to the belief that my life was in my own hands, and I was free to pursue my own happiness.
Looking back, this is the freedom that was there all along, when I was a kid then and as an adult now. This underlying freedom to do whatever I want befits me, as long as I don’t infringe on others’ rights. This is the freedom that the Constitution explicitly states ... that we are under no rules from anyone, except ourselves; that our rights of life and liberty are given to us by no one but God.
As soon as I understood the essence of my adopted country’s core, I was no longer ignorantly happy, but deeply in awe and gratefully blissful. And I thank God every day that I’m blessed with this freedom.
But there’s also a group of people who I’m thankful for because they are the ones who protect this country and its Constitution, which defines what freedom means, and guarantees us those rights.
Our veterans protect our way of life so that we can go about living our lives peacefully and pursuing our dreams without fear of attack, oppression or tyranny from foreign enemies. Living briefly in Vietnam, under the daily threat, the silent fear gnawing in our minds about the possibility of the communists storming into the south side of Vietnam, I knew what it felt like.
And for many Americans who are so fortunate to have never experienced this fear, please be reminded that you are privileged — privileged because you didn’t have to earn any of it; you simply were lucky enough to be born into this country.
Yes, it is our right to have freedom, but so what, if there’s no one to protect it? Our rights exist only if there is someone to defend and preserve them, and that is what our soldiers and our veterans do and did!
They earned every bit of it. They fought for what they believe in, for their fellow Americans and for their — and our — country, and we benefit. Let’s pay back what we’ve been indulging, even though it will never be enough. But the least that we can do is to give them our highest honor, our respect and our gratitude.
Thank you, veterans, for your service and your sacrifice. And on this Veterans Day, please know that you are appreciated. You are valued. You are loved. God bless you, and God bless this great country!
(About the writer: Van Marosek is a Vietnamese immigrant who came to America in 1975 following the fall of her Saigon, South Vietnam, homeland to the communist regime. She is now an American citizen and resides with her family in Lawrenceville, Ga. She writes her "Better Ourselves, Better Our World" newspaper column, as well as a blog. Email her at Jimvanny@gmail.com.)
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