Worthy price for freedom
On Aug. 23, 1998, on the 40th anniversary of the 823 Artillery Bombardment [of Aug. 23, 1958], in a joint Republic of China (ROC)-US military presentation, your nation presented the Honor Medal for 823 Bombardment. In 1958, I was a 20-year-old corporal in the US Marine Corps. I was one of 800 US veterans who received the medal.
Since 1998, our association has grown to more than 5,000, and in Taiwan, veterans of 823 are represented by Lu Fang-yen (呂芳煙), chairman of the 30,000-plus-member 823 Artillery Bombardment Veterans and Friends Association, headquartered in Jhonghe (中和), New Taipei City (新北市).
That 1998 medal presentation to US servicemen was a first-ever event; never before had any foreign nation presented US servicemen a military award on US soil.
As the ROC representative presented the medals in Boston, I was proud of being recognized 40 years after an event that in some quarters has been overshadowed over time, but not by those that experienced the 823 bombardment. However, something happened to me at that ceremony: I was aware of a musical backdrop of chimes, playing ever so softly God Bless America.
From that moment I no longer invoked a deity to bless the US or any other free nation; instead, I ask the heavens to bring forth the blessing of freedom to those that remain under the yoke of oppression in lands where a nascent freedom has yet to present itself.
A hundred years ago, the seed of a democratic republic for China was born; that spark eluded many, yet when brought to Taiwan, it flourished. Freedom and liberty are not common conditions. For 200 millennia, man has oppressed man and in an interconnected world, not balanced between good and evil, evil still triumphs; the blessing of freedom is an abnormality.
To view those blessed is to see open, happy and smiling faces of a citizenry, evident too in the faces of those who have committed themselves to serve in government; but even today, freedom extracts her price of sacrifice, and thankfully, in few cases of blood and death.
In August 2008, a delegation of our members was invited to Kinmen to attend the 50th anniversary of 823. We shared in that event with your president, members of his administration and your military leaders. All made gravesite tributes and I was invited to attend the veneration of 823’s dead, led by President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), in a memorial sanctuary. It was there, in viewing the photographs of the dead that I was moved beyond words. For here, there were no smiling faces; it was there, on Kinmen, where freedom’s ultimate demand for payment, for freedom and liberty, were paid: blood and death. What happened there ensured our present-day celebration.
Taiwan today is a far cry from the parlous times of “We hope we can.” Taiwan today is “Look, world. Look at what we have accomplished in our democratic republic with a citizenry that has liberty.”
Taiwan has kept faith in its stewardship of Sun Yat-sen’s (孫逸仙) 100-year-old spark-illuminated dream of possibilities. The light from that spark today illuminates the world; it’ll be brighter tomorrow if we maintain the “blessings of deity” and continue to pay the “price.”
Happy birthday, Taiwan, the eyes of the world are on you, especially those of us US veterans who are so proud to have played a part in your success.
Founder of the 823 Badge of Honor Association USA
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