America The Beautiful: A Wounded Warrior’s Refrain

Published 1:13 pm Tuesday, June 30, 2015

When a nation is founded on freedom, there remains a price to be paid. Since America’s founding in 1776, countless men and women have paid that ultimate price in defense of our country.

The Rev. Ralph Haga Sr., a Prospect minister and survivor of D-Day, eloquently described his view of freedom in a July 2, 2004, Herald article: “No doubt, the question will be raised — what do we die for? The answer is freedom. What is freedom? Freedom is a man lifting a gate latch at dusk and sitting for a while on his porch smoking his pipe before he goes to bed. It is the warm laughter of a girl on a park bench. It is the rush of a train over a continent and the unafraid faces of people looking out the windows. It is the words of  “America the Beautiful,” the sea breaking on white sands and the shoulders of a mountain supporting the sky. It is all the things you feel and cannot help feeling. Freedom — it is you!”

This sentiment continues to resonate among veterans of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan who return with physical or mental challenges.

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Eight years ago, my son became one of them.

In the fall of 2006, my son was discharged from the Navy with permanent nerve and muscle damage connected to his service in Iraq. Unable to drive or even sit upright for more than an hour or so, he needed a ride from Seattle to Pensacola, Fla., where his family was waiting.

I volunteered and enlisted the help of retired Longwood professor Nancy Haga, a member of the Prince Edward Volunteer Rescue Squad and trained emergency medical technician.

On a beautiful fall morning, Nancy and I began our cross-country journey. As Haga proposed, I hummed “America the Beautiful” along the way.

O beautiful, for spacious skies; for amber waves of grain.

Nancy and I took an early flight from Richmond bound for Minneapolis. As we approached our destination, the Twin Cities appeared, rising above the plain on an amber sea of grain. We changed planes, and later that day experienced another awe-inspiring sight — Mount Rainier, already dusted with snow. Our thoughts naturally turned to the road ahead when we would travel over that same mountain range.

For purple mountains majesty.

In Seattle we collected my son and all his belongings and turned left on U.S. Route 90.

“We’re set for the next 1,500 miles,” I said.

Our first day of travel was the most exciting. The mountains were indeed majestic, especially for drivers accustomed to Farmville’s elevation of 351 feet.

Above the fruited plain.

We arrived in Idaho as the potato harvest was under way. Tractor-drawn harvesters lumbered down the rows as far as the eye could see. Farther along, fields were dotted with hay bales. As we traveled through Wyoming toward the Black Hills of South Dakota, the only people we encountered were those riding on some type of harvesting machine.

America, America

When we reached St. Louis, Mo., we turned south and then stopped in Olive Branch, Miss., for the night.

As we sat in a truck stop listening to numbers being called for truckers to take their showers, we reflected on our trip. The people we met along the way were basically the same: friendly and helpful — and proud to be Americans.

From sea to shining sea

When we reached Pensacola the next day, Nancy asked my son, “Would you do it again, go to war for your country?”

“I’d go back tomorrow if I could,” my son replied.

Haga said it well, “What do we die for — freedom.”

Crossing the country in six days, I know this for a fact: America is beautiful — from sea to shining sea. That beauty includes the people along the way.

“America the Beautiful” includes words that our wounded warriors live by — and ones we should never forget.

MARGE SWAYNE is social editor of The Farmville Herald. Her email address is