Sacrifices for Freedom
I discovered this article today. It was written for a contest by Kaleb Kleiss Hoeft, an eighth-grader at the Student Leadership Academy in Venice, FL. As the winner of that contest, Kaleb had the honor of placing a wreath at the Changing of the Guard ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in our nation’s capitol a few weeks ago. In the real story of Fatal Incident, nineteen people died in a plane crash in a fight for our freedom during WW II in 1944. Kaleb’s essay captured what I feel when I look at the crash site photographs taken by the recovery team over sixty-six years ago. Memorial Day is truly a day of national pride.
Sacrifices for Freedom
by Kaleb Kleiss Hoeft (Age 14)
I have been to the National Arlington Cemetery and have seen the wreath being presented at the changing of the guard ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. At first, I didn’t realize the symbolic meaning of the ceremony. It took me a while to understand that a man had died for America in a war and the body could not be identified and be brought home to his family. The tomb represents all of the quiet heroes that go unrecognized while fighting for freedom. The tomb, itself, stands for the sacrifice that was taken to be a free nation. We, the children of America, really take for granted the sacrifices that have been made for freedom. During the 2009-2010 year, I had the opportunity to travel throughout America and see firsthand, the sacrifices that have been made by my family and the American people to guarantee the continuation of freedom.
We started our travels at the little town of Hayesville, North Carolina, deep in the Appalachian Mountains, by participating in a Memorial Day run. I really didn’t understand Memorial Day and just took it to be a day to have fun. We took off on our trip a few days later and went to many places. One day we visited a lighthouse on Lake Michigan. The museum inside the retired lighthouse was dedicated to shipwrecks. We learned about several different shipwrecks all on Lake Michigan. We toured the museum and then came to an exhibit with a poster with the photographs of fifty men who died in a certain shipwreck. We read the names of the dead and were startled to see our family name, Hoeft, listed among the dead. A relative had died on Lake Michigan during a winter storm while shipping lumber to Chicago to help rebuild the city after the Great Chicago Fire. We were very shocked and surprised, so we decided to say a prayer for him. My relative who died on that ship was known only to family at that time. He died a long time ago and nobody knew about him until we discovered his name on our travels. He is an unknown hero. He was part of the rebuilding of Chicago after it was destroyed and he died for that cause. When my family and I visited the Statue of Liberty and toured the museum at Ellis Island, I learned that I had many relatives that emigrated from Germany to the United States. The immigration progress was filled with great sacrifice. They left everything they knew and traveled overseas and faced the harsh immigration process at New York Harbor. I learned my ancestry was part of the building of America. One of those relatives who came over from Germany became a lumber baron and donated land for a state park in Michigan. I have visited a homestead of my relatives when they were heading west in the westward expansion. They settled in South Dakota and farmed the land and survived some of the harshest winters. I have several men in my family who fought in the wars throughout history. My Grandpa Roy fought in WW II in Africa and Italy. My Grandpa Jack was a medic during the Korean War. Our modern nomadic travels opened up the world to me and I began to see our country’s problems and triumphs. My mind opened to new subjects as we traveled throughout forty states, visited seventy-five national parks, and explored countless cities. I was absorbed by my observations and discoveries and yet, I was continuously in awe about the sacrifices my parents and family made to allow me the privileges that surrounded me.
My family’s travels took us to all sorts of national parks and monuments. We went to Charleston and went inside Fort Sumter and I realized that this was where the Civil War started, which ultimately would lead to the Civil Rights movement for the African American people. That was where brother fought against brother for the first time. Then, there was the Boston Freedom Trail. The people of this era made significant personal sacrifices to make this country independent and free. They revolted, they formed organizations to fight the British, and they began to arm themselves. Finally, they took action at Lexington and Concord, which started the Revolutionary War. I was amazed and a bit curious about how such young colonies could fight a force that was so superior. This took real strength and it could not have happened without the sacrifices of the American colonists who gave their lives for independence. Back then they had no dog tags to identify your body if you died. If you died in battle back then, so did your name. Sacrifices are made for many things. The missionaries back in the early eighteen hundreds wanted to convert Native Americans to Christians. They went out west and built huge walled missions. They were under threat of Indian attack around the clock, but they stayed and spread the word of the Lord. One of those missions became the first battle field for Texas’ Independence at the Alamo. Then I was introduced to individuals such as John Muir who was an avid naturalist. He was the idealist who started the concept of the National Park System. He ended up giving his life for the conversation of natural places, such as Hetch Hetchy in California.
One of the often overlooked periods of American history with the most sacrifice involved is the Women’s Rights Movement. Women for the first time began to speak out against the unfair treatment of women by men. They wanted to vote and be able to work for pay and have legal rights. They held rallies for equal rights and the whole time the men were scoffing at them saying they were ignorant. Female leaders, such as Clara Barton, Rosa Parks and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, began to rise up. Hundreds of women supported them and the history books don’t have all their names recorded. They are unknown soldiers who were fighting for women’s rights. They did not resort to violence to get their way. They wrote their own declaration, The Declaration of Sentiments, saying that all men and women are equal and that women should have equal rights.
My family ended our year long travels the same way we began with the Memorial Day 5K run in the little mountain town of Hayesville, North Carolina. I had grown about four inches and gained about ten ponds and towered over my mother now. However, the major changes were not physical, but rather spiritual. My understanding of freedom had taken root. Freedom means that each person has to make sacrifices and take on responsibilities. It means that each person has the right to speak and fight for what is right. Most of us are unknown soldiers fighting for what we believe in.
Copyright 2011, Kaleb Kleiss Hoeft. Used with permission.