Albuquerque Journal (Albuquerque, NM)

'Freedom Isn't Free'.(Final)

Byline: Isabel Sanchez and Polly Summar Of the Journal

This Memorial Day brings home the fears, triumphs and doubts of wars past and present

You are dropping to Earth from 20,000 feet and you are all alone. The German countryside shimmers below; it's a beautiful August afternoon, 1943.

Sixty years later, S. John Hawkins, 86, is more likely to think of the old Armistice Day in November than a Memorial Day of parades and speeches.

"I'm just not one to go in for a lot of ceremony," says Hawkins, one of New Mexico's 200,000 veterans.

Hawkins had wanted to fly ever since he was a boy. On that August day, he was a pilot whose destroyed plane has spun away without him. Sixty planes holding 10 men each went on this mission. All went down.

He parachuted to vineyards and eluded the Germans for a day and a half, but they caught him.

He was a prisoner until the war ended and a 7th Armored Division tank tore down a fence at the camp.

"Unless you experience these things," he says of a three-day boxcar trip in a blizzard, 80 men to a car, to a prison camp built for 30,000 and holding 100,000, "it doesn't make that big an impression."

It should, says John Garcia, Vietnam war veteran and secretary of the state Department of Veteran Affairs.

"I just hope people remember the legacy these men and women left behind," Garcia says. "It's an important holiday that we've taken for granted."

Memorial Day is different now, he says -- 9-11 changed it, Iraq has changed it, the orange alerts changed it.

"People understand freedom isn't free. There is a price. We live in a very fragile world," Garcia says.

"We must rededicate ourselves to what being an American is, rededicate ourselves to our country, our flag. …

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