LONSBERRY: In The Dark Of A Midwinter Night


In the dark of a midwinter night, on the banks of the Potomac River, the cannon fired and the band played and the multicolored rockets flew, as the Republic celebrated a new president and an old promise, to liberty and independence and the will of we, the people.

               In the dark of that same midwinter night, near the banks of the Irondequoit Creek, in the thundering roar of 11 tons of olive-drab mercy, three soldiers drove a big Black Hawk over farm and field and family home, training to fight and training to save, keeping the promise of This We’ll Defend, keeping the flag flying and the home fires lit and doing the will of we, the people.

               That’s how it works.

               We have pomp and ceremony, institutions and symbols, monuments and memorials, touchstones of 245 years of red, white and blue and the land of the free. And we have men and women of grit and courage, doing hard things in the service of others, around the clock, honing the bayonet of national defense, proving and proving and proving again that we are the home of the brave.

               The two are parts of the whole, indispensable and inseparable. The flag flies not as a gift from the world, an entitlement of the universe, but because we put it up and stand ready to snap the neck of anybody who tries to take it down. The president isn’t the commander in chief of the Army and Navy because it sounds cool, but because national existence is tied to national defense, and we don’t have a freedom we can’t protect or a nation we can’t secure, and the halls of power are established by the fields of battle.

                And we prevail on those fields of battle because we train. Because we prepare. We drill. We push. We demand. We demonstrate. We do it around the clock and across the calendar. In sun and rain and heat and cold.

               And in the dark of a midwinter night.

               The New York Army National Guard Aviation Support Facility is a spic-and-span operation on the backside of the airport, down near where people sometimes park to watch the planes take off and land, a dress-right-dress swath of Army green on the edge of the Greater Rochester International Airport and its commercial aviation.

               You get there by driving down Scottsville Road and turning right onto Patriot Way. But from there you can go anywhere in the world. Anywhere in the world somebody raises a fist at America and tries to swing it. Anywhere in the world an American soldier lies wounded and needs somebody hot and heavy to come in and get him.

               Anywhere in New York that heavy airlift or medivac or eyes in the sky are needed and citizen soldiers can come under rotor to help.

               The New York Army National Guard Aviation Support Facility.

               Where last night three cars sat late in the parking lot with no one to drive them home.

               Home. Where wars are really fought and sacrifice is truly felt. Where going there means leaving here, and leaving the loves and the dreams and purposes of life. You don’t fight, the hero says, because you hate what’s in front of you, you fight because you love what’s behind you. And home is what’s behind you. And inside you. And driving you.

               The New York Army National Guard Aviation Support Facility.

               Where there’s the dust of Afghanistan in the corners and the tears of loss in the eyes.

               A security camera on somebody’s garage captured the approaching sound of the big Sikorsky airframe and General Electric motors. There was an increase in volume and a throbbing oscillation, not the quick whack-a whack-a of slapping blades, but a moan that rose and fell, and then something that sounded like everything coming loose and metal striking metal, like a mechanism coming apart.

               There are a lot of houses out there, and snow-covered farmers’ fields. And sometimes the last thing you do is save somebody else’s life, and the big bird veered toward an expanse where they grow corn or beans or some other fruit of the American soil.

               Soil bought and paid for and consecrated by the shedding of American blood.

               They were the first military casualties of the new presidency. Three soldiers, three National Guardsmen, who died as assuredly in our service and to our benefit as if they had perished on a foreign battlefield, instead of in a neighboring town.

               They call it Patriot Way for a reason.

               And it says US ARMY on their chest as a reminder.

               To us and them and all the world, that we know freedom isn’t free, and independence isn’t automatic. Americans have always know that, and Americans have never shied away from paying the price.

               And last night in a snowy field, while the band played and the president waved, three heroes died in our service, and three families were wounded in our cause.

               That’s what keeps the flag flying and the Republic aright, and the institutions of liberty intact.

               And that’s what we must never forget.