Earn this

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

As I write this column, it’s Memorial Day. Across Carroll County — and across the country — ceremonies are being held to honor and remember those men and women who gave their lives in military service.

One of those ceremonies took place this morning in Green Forest, where longtime Green Forest High School teacher and coach Jim Goins was among the speakers. Goins’ son — 2nd Lt. James Michael Goins — was killed Aug. 15, 2004, in Najaf, Iraq. Lt. Goins, a tank platoon leader, was just 23 years old when he was killed by a gunman who climbed on top of his tank and fired into its open hatch.

Nearly seven years after Goins’ death, another young man with connections to Green Forest also made the ultimate sacrifice. On Aug. 6, 2011, Navy SEAL Tommy Ratzlaff, a Green Forest High School graduate with a wife and two sons — and an unborn daughter — was among 30 American servicemen killed in Afghanistan when their helicopter was struck by a rocket-propelled grenade. He was 34 years old.

Goins and Ratzlaff’s stories are well-documented, and the city of Green Forest has rightfully worked to honor their memories. Certainly, there are many more from Carroll County who have given their lives in service of our country.

One of my favorite movies is “Saving Private Ryan.” It’s a gut-wrenching examination of the horrors of war. It’s one of my favorite movies not because it is easy to watch; it certainly isn’t. It’s because it serves as a reminder of exactly how much has been given to us as Americans, and the price that was paid so that we may be free.

The premise of the movie is that a family loses three brothers on D-Day, when the Allies stormed the beaches of Normandy in the turning point of World War II. A unit led by the character Captain Miller, portrayed by Tom Hanks, is assigned to find the fourth brother, character Private James Ryan, portrayed by Matt Damon, so that he can be sent home.

Near the end of the movie, Captain Miller lies dying on a bridge in France. His unit has fulfilled its mission, and Ryan is safe. In the process, however, every man in the unit has given his life. As Ryan leans in to the mortally wounded captain, Miller says: “James, earn this. Earn it.”

In the final scene of the movie, the Ryan character is an old man returning to France. He falls to his knees in front of Miller’s grave and with tears in his eyes, says: “Every day I think about what you said to me that day on the bridge. I’ve tried to live my life the best that I could. I hope that that was enough. I hope, that at least in your eyes, I earned what all of you have done for me.”

Of course, the metaphor is clear. In that moment, Ryan is speaking for all of us. So many have sacrificed so much, and the best way for us to honor their memory is to live in such a way as to earn what they did for us.

To James Michael Goins, Tommy Ratzlaff and to all the countless others who have died so that we may live free, thank you for a job well done. A grateful nation salutes you.

• • •

Scott Loftis is managing editor for Carroll County Newspapers. His email address is CarrollCountyNews@cox-internet.com.