William Ellison stood tall and erect between his two sons. He'd worked hard on the committee to dedicate the area near the center of the park to honor veterans, both living and dead. Despite the protests from anti-war demonstrators, the statue of two soldiers standing on either side of an American flag had been commissioned and brought to the park.
His youngest son, Steven, eyed the demonstrators who were being kept from the dedication ceremony by a line of police officers. The demonstrators were mostly quiet and peaceful…which disappointed the young boy. The adults talked too much for such a hot day…and most of it was boring.
William gently nudged his younger son. When the boy guiltily looked at him, William silently nodded towards the Mayor who was still talking. Sulkily, Steven obeyed.
William glanced at his elder son, Jim. The teenager was standing as erect as his father, his eyes studying the uniformed representatives of the respective armed services. Occasionally, his eyes would flicker to his father, still surprised to see William in his naval officer's uniform.
Thankfully, the Mayor finally completed his speech to a smattering of polite applause. William put a hand on each of his son's shoulders. "It's more than a statue. It's more than showing respect and appreciation for their sacrifices," he tried to explain. "It's…understanding why they chose to serve their country."
"But some were drafted," Steven pointed out. "Maybe they didn't want to go to war. Or die."
William sighed. "I know. But they did it anyway." He struggled to find the correct words. "Sometimes, son, you do things you don't like to do…because it's the right thing to do." He eyed the statue for a few seconds. "Because some things are worth fighting and even dying for."
Steven shrugged, wiping sweat from his face. He wondered if he could convince his father to let him go swimming at his friend's house rather than stay at the park.
Jim, however, was nodding. For once he agreed with his father. He glanced at William who was receiving congratulations from another man. Some things were worth fighting and dying for…he just wouldn't do it in the Navy.
"Momma, what's the statue for?"
Naomi Sandberg smiled down at her small son. "Well, some people would say that it glorifies war and violence."
Blair thought about this for a moment, then stared up at his mother with a frown. "What do you think it's for?"
Naomi hesitated, then knelt in front of her son. "I think it's a way for people to express many things. Some of them are using the statue to pay respect to those who died in wars to protect their ideals. Some of them are using the statue to glorify violence. Some are using the statue as an excuse to convince other young men to go to war. And some are using it to assuage their guilty consciences." She chuckled at Blair's expression. "Things are never just black or white, sweetie. Not even statues." She stood and took his hand. "Come on."
Blair obediently walked with his mother and watched while she put a bouquet of wildflowers at the base of the statue. "What does the statue mean to you, Momma?"
Naomi told herself she wasn't going to cry. "It means that young men and young women believed very strongly in their ideals. But they chose the wrong way to support those ideals. Violence is wrong, sweetie. There's never an excuse for it. An intelligent person can always find a non-violent way to stand up for what's right and to make changes for the benefit of all."
Blair slowly nodded. He supposed some things were worth sacrifices…he just wouldn't use violence.
"Come on, sweetie. We need to be going." Naomi turned around and nearly ran into a tall man in a Naval officer's uniform. By his side were two boys. "I'm sorry. I didn't know you were behind me," she apologized with a smile.
"No problem," William politely nodded. "We were going to pay our respects." He stepped aside so they could pass.
Naomi led Blair away from the statue. She hoped the two boys with the Naval officer would learn a better way to settle any differences than with violence and war.
William smiled when the little boy with the attractive red-haired woman turned and waved 'goodbye' at him. He saw them walking towards the demonstrators, some of whom were greeting them with shouts and waves. Sighing, he hoped the child would somehow learn that the world needed guardians willing to fight those who didn't give a damn about idealists and their notions of non-violent opposition.
Perhaps someday everyone would understand that independence meant different things to different people.
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