Freedom Is Not Free (Day Thirty Six)
We had the opportunity to visit the resting place of Ottawa, Kansas native Lance Corporal Christopher Wasser today, who died while conducting combat operations in the Anbar province of Iraq on April 8, 2004. Coincidently, and sadly, this is 3 years to the day that SSG Jesse Williams was killed on April 8, 2007. I know this is a day that will always be difficult for both families.
Thanks to the permission we received Christopher’s parents, Scott and Candy, Matt and I finished the ride today with a trip to Highland Cemetery to pay our respects to a fallen hero and thank him for the sacrifice he made on our behalf. During the conversations I had with his father, Scott called his son Christopher, and therefore I will refer to him that way for the rest of this post. I mean no disrespect by referring to him in a civilian way, in fact, it is my intention to respect his family and refer to him in the manner they do – a son and an older brother to 3 siblings, Nicholas, Katie and Emily.
As I approached the site, I immediately was able to find and read the stone marked at the base with “WASSER”. As I gazed from bottom to top, the next words I read was ‘Freedom isn’t free’, a phrase that means everything to me as it describes what our country is all about. Men like Christopher, who gave his life for our country at age 21 and chose to be a Marine knowing the dangers of doing so. His act of courage has afforded others to choose their own path and to be who they want to be. It allows all of us to go to bed at night knowing it will be ok as we sleep. We live in America. How lucky are we?
In my conversations with Scott, I learned Christopher’s first day of basic training was September 11, 2001. I also learned his last day of basic training was December 7, 2001, the 60th anniversary of Pearl Harbor. Christopher was destined to defend our country and he wanted to do it. Scott explained to me how being a Marine was Christopher’s goal in life and that as tragic as it was for him to only live to age 21, that both he and his wife Candy were pleased as parents that their son had achieved his goal. What an unselfish and positive way for two loving parents to look upon the loss of their oldest son. My heart goes out to the Wasser family and I thank them for allowing me to discuss Christopher’s sacrifice today.
There was a ride today too. I feel selfish myself writing about it after visiting Christopher. But there were some notable things to report. The entire day was on the Prairie Spirit Trail, a 50.7 mile trip from Iola, Kansas to Ottawa, Kansas (or Ottawa to Iola if you aren’t traveling to NYC). Its surface is crushed limestone. That was new to me too – let’s just say it’s not asphalt! The first twenty miles were marked by 3 events that we have not experienced:
1. Matt has a blowout at mile 10. Not a flat tire, a blowout. Thankfully, we were close to road, had cell phone coverage and the SAG crew (aka Mama Bear and Papa Bear) where on the spot and nearby. We put on a new tire and we were back on our way in no time.
2. About 5 miles later, 2 dogs fired on to the trail and started chasing us approaching from my side. I remained in my lane, which allowed both of us to break contact rather efficiently, in spite of the dogs’ endurance and resilience. Very shortly afterwards, I was boasting to Matt how I stayed the course (unlike the last time when a guest rider who joined for a morning swerved into Matt’s lane which put him on the grass and vulnerable) when all of a sudden my front tire sunk into the ‘crushed limestone’ and I flew over the handle bars. To quote Ralph Kramden, “It was nothing, a mere bag of shells” (thanks Misch for the Honeymooners reminder). I got away with minor cuts on my arms and we were off and riding again.
3. About 2 miles later we were discussing the incident and I was explaining to Matt the importance of unclipping from the pedals if it ever happened to him, and literally as we were having this discussion, Matt’s front wheel sunk into the ‘crushed limestone’ and over the handlebars he went. Also a “mere bag of shells” – minor cuts on the legs for Matt – and we again we were off.
We got the halfway point 60 minutes behind schedule and a little banged up. We were met by the wonderful people of Garnett, who were very supportive of our mission – it helped to be banged up a bit! We broke out the first aid kit (thanks Kari Pettibone for preparing this) for the first time and we quickly got ready for the second half of the Prairie River Trail.
The final 25 miles were not nearly as eventful as the first half, but I can say that riding on ‘crushed limestone’ is harder than asphalt or concrete and Matt would agree.
We made up some time and arrived to Ottawa only slightly behind schedule and received ANOTHER great welcome from a town in Kansas. This time, Matt and I both got keys to the city and the iced tea, cookies and donuts hit the spot. I would like to thank Air Force Veteran and current Ottawa City Manager Richard Neinstedt for his kind words and participation in this event. I think it was his day off, but he would not admit it. The people of Kansas are great. If you have not been here, you should come.
Please take a moment today to think about the Wasser family and remember – FREEDOM IS NOT FREE.
To the limit,