Op-Ed: Director Rob Simpson Reflects on Veteran’s Day 2011

Waitsfield, VT War Memorial
Photo Courtesy of Rob Simpson

November 11, 2011 – Veterans Day

by Rob Simpson, CEO, Brattleboro Retreat and Secretary, Vermont Business Roundtable

 I was driving through Waitsfield yesterday after leaving the Vermont Business Roundtable Board meeting when I noticed on my right on Route 100 a roadside memorial made up of small white flags arranged like a cemetery with gravestones honoring the 6,229 Americans who have lost their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan. The contrast to my meeting with business leaders throughout the state and the juxtaposition of the images on my right and the thoughts in my head were jarring. Minutes before we had been discussing the Roundtable’s strategic initiatives in early childhood education, healthcare reform and supporting the Vermont brand in tourism.

At first, I drove on by the memorial as I was preoccupied with thoughts of how to develop these initiatives in concert with our work at the Retreat. But then it hit me: the white flags, the symbols of lost American soldiers and the contrast of lives going forward and lives that never would. I pulled over to the side, checked my rear view mirror and made my way back. I sat there, looking at the flags as memories of lost friends to war and of Veteran’s Day parades in my hometown growing up moved forward and settled in. I had to give them time.

The memorial, I later learned, was established by a group of peace activists intent on reminding people about the bottom line of war. Its caretakers add a flag and change the numbers on two signs that reveal the growing toll of lost lives. One portion of the field is marked “American Military Killed in Iraq” and the other “American Military Killed in Afghanistan.” It is a memorial that has not been without controversy as it brings up many emotions about these wars.

But for me, as I sat there and gave these reminders time, I thought about the service men and women who have come to the Retreat and the respect and care that we have given to them, helping them to heal. Our work is powerful, as is this spot along Route 100 on a rural road in Vermont. It reminds us that we must never forget the sacrifices others make.

Today we honor those who have fought for our freedom, and we must always remember that “freedom is not free.” It is paid for by our fellow Americans who have been willing to fight and die for us.