CHAPEL HILL - "Freedom isn't free" is an often heard phrase from servicemen and women, veterans, their families and close friends, and during his Veterans Day address at the elementary school here, a deputy commissioner of veterans affairs for Tennessee taught history lessons to substantiate the truth of that phrase.
Wendell Cheek spoke at Chapel Hill Elementary School where students raised $1,321.65 - mostly in quarters - to help fund the Marshall County Veterans Service Office. Nearby, Forrest School students raised $1,115. Veterans Service Officer Billy Hill responded then and days later saying he's grateful for their generosity, especially since the county's budget has been so tight in recent years.
CHES Principal Dean Delk introduced the day's speaker, Wendell Cheek, deputy commissioner for Tennessee Veterans Affairs.
"Most of us know the names of Franklin, Adams, Hancock, and Jefferson, but what of the rest of the signers" of the Declaration of Independence that put the British on notice that America would be free of the King? The question, asked and answered, came from Cheek, whose history lesson explained why freedom isn't free.
Here are two of his examples.
During the Revolution, John Hart of Trenton, N.J., risked his life to return home to see his dying wife. Hessian soldiers rode after him, and he escaped into the woods. His wife on her deathbed, soldiers ransacked his farm and wrecked his homestead. Hart, 65, slept in caves and woods while hunted across the countryside. Emaciated by hardship, he snuck home, found his wife buried, and his 13 children gone. He never saw them again and died a broken man in 1779.
Thomas Nelson of Virginia led Colonial forces in the Battle of Yorktown. British Gen. Cornwallis used Nelson's home for headquarters, thinking that Americans wouldn't fire upon the former governor's home. As American heavy guns destroyed the town, Nelson's home was untouched. In a rage Nelson asked why. "Out of respect for you, sir," they replied Nelson took charge of the gun and destroyed his home. His sacrifice didn't end there. He'd raised $2 million for the Revolution, pledging his own estates. The peacetime Congress refused to pay the loans. Nelson's property was forfeited. He died, impoverished, at 50.
Those who signed the Declaration of Independence agreed to commit treason against the King in exchange for freedom. They pledged their lives, fortunes and honor.
"We live in the land of the free because of the brave," Cheek said.
"We have heroes among us," Cheek said, explaining the connection between those who signed the Declaration of independence to those who wear the uniform of the U.S. military.
"Veterans, we honor you, and we thank you for your service, for what you've done for all of us....
"Veterans are special," Cheek said. "Make no mistake about that."