I have always respected our veterans, but I have only recently begun to understand how important they truly are.

A few weeks ago, the Grand Island Northwest High School band performed for the returning Hall Country Hero Flight. Through this organization, veterans are transported to Washington, D.C., and provided with a chance to see the memorials of the respective war they fought in as well as other famous landmarks. As the plane returns from our nation’s capital, the veterans receive a warm welcome from the community.

However, when I first heard about having to perform at the Hero Flight, I was more worried about finishing my homework than playing music for veterans. I knew I had several assignments due the next day; at that moment, I only thought about myself. I forgot about the people who had spent their nights and days fighting for my ability to work on homework, but, despite the math problems and essays dominating my mind, I attended the Hero Flight.

Before the veterans returned, a ceremony was conducted in which members of the community offered their support. Every person in the crowd was attentively waiting for the moment when they could hear the roar of the plane engine.

Then, the mood shifted from anticipation to cheerfulness as the plane came into sight. When the door of the plane opened, the veterans were greeted with support from all of the people in attendance. From the crash of the cymbals to the signs hoisted in the air, the community provided warmth that the temperature lacked.

I watched veterans make their way past us and into the cheerful crowd. All around us, there was a feeling of encouragement that can’t be described. A mixture of solemn respect and elated gratitude permeated through the air. Every person standing in the crowd was affected by this feeling.

As tears streamed down the veterans’ faces, I realized something important. Despite the bitter cold, late night, and seemingly endless stacks of homework, my problems were insignificant when compared to the smiles on the veterans’ faces. The opportunity involved something larger than myself.

Every citizen in the United States is able to claim their citizenship because of our veterans. When we make a decision, we are able to because of the rights that protect us. Those rights have been earned by people who have risked their lives, so the cost of freedom is hardly free.

Freedom can mean different things to different people. It is the power to speak our minds, act the way we wish, or think freely. In fact, our right to choose the definition of freedom as it applies to ourselves is the greatest right of all.

However, the ability to live free of fear, to pursue our passions, and to go about our everyday lives are freedoms that are sometimes taken for granted. These natural rights aren’t granted by the government, but they are protected by those who fearlessly defend our nation. They sacrifice their time, and, sadly, there are those who have sacrificed their lives.

The price of freedom is not something that should be taken lightly. For those who defend the flag, the Pledge of Allegiance and our rights, we are grateful. For every veteran and for those who are currently serving in the army, we are grateful. Because of all of these things, our nation comes together to commemorate those who have served our nation on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.

On Nov. 11, 1919, the first anniversary of the end of World War I was celebrated. At the time, it was called Armistice Day, but, when it became a national holiday in 1938, it became known as Veterans Day. The holiday honors veterans who are either living or deceased. Through war and peace, our veterans have demonstrated valor that I can hardly imagine.

Although Veterans Day isn’t for another week, it is important to remember veterans on every day of the year. Regardless of the time, they are serving our country. Regardless of the day, the temperature, or however preoccupied they might be, they are serving our country. They fight every day to defend our freedom, so we can honor them on every day of the year.

Emelia Richling is a sophomore at Northwest High School.

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