Private Nelson Jones was pinned down under fire with his unit in a small square in Oerlinghausen, Germany, on a chilly morning in April, 1945. As he tried to return fire, an ear-splitting blast from a German Panzer tank killed him, instantly.

A year earlier, he was walking the halls as senior class president of Huntsville High School.

The cost of freedom has a name and for me it is my cousin, Nelson Jones.

Now he rests in peace at the American National Cemetery in Margraten, Holland, along with more than 8,000 fellow soldiers.

I wouldn’t even know about Nelson’s sacrifice, if my Dad hadn’t told his story over and over. I’m glad he told us. It’s an important thing to know because it associates the cost of freedom with a real name.

It’s easy to forget that.

Each fallen soldier had a life and a family.

Their plans and dreams, talents and gifts were never fully realized.

Every Memorial Day, a ceremony is held at Margraten to honor its dead. Each name is read aloud. One of those names is Nelson Jones, of Huntsville, Alabama.

He never got to come home or have a family of his own. He never had a career or even lived a day in his twenties. Millions of soldiers suffered and died in our wars, defending my right to go to the lake and celebrate this holiday with my family.

Memorial Day reminds me that freedom really isn’t free at all.

  • Someone had to pay with his or her life.
  • A mother and father had to bury their child.
  • A distraught wife had to send her husband to war.
  • Some received wounds that never healed.
  • Some lost their fortune; others lost their minds.

Most likely, you and I will eat our barbecue and potato chips in complete freedom this Memorial Day, without threat or intervention.

Perhaps you will gather with your family or join friends at the beach. Or you may travel to the country or to another city. You might backpack on the Appalachian Trail, have a picnic in the park, or just grill out in the backyard.

Praise God, you and I have the freedom to choose.

Some will talk about politics on Memorial Day. Others will talk about injustices and social problems. And some of us will forget just how blessed we are and complain.

I hope to resist doing that. I hope you will, too.

I hear so much griping and complaining about our nation these days, but not much praise. School textbooks now seem to focus on American evils, rather than on the American good (we have both). Entire news shows are devoted to all that is wrong or bad here, but not much is said about the things that are right. How God has blessed our nation usually doesn’t make the headlines—I guess being positive doesn’t sell papers.

This constant flow of negativity can shift your perspective away from gratitude. It can cause you to take your national blessings for granted. It can keep you from remembering those who sacrificed. This focus on the negative can make you feel underprivileged. But remember, it’s a great privilege to be American.

Consider some of our privileges that many other nations don’t have:

  • The right to worship, freely
  • Freedom of speech
  • The right to a fair trial by jury
  • The right to bear arms
  • The freedom to protest, peacefully
  • The right to vote
  • The right to own property

Yes, we are an imperfect and flawed nation, but we have so much to be grateful for—and so much to lose.

My cousin, Nelson, died 74 years ago as he fought for our country. To him and to so many others, freedom was very costly. Remember someone had to pay a price for every “free” thing we have. Many Americans, like Nelson, rest in foreign cemeteries all over the world because they paid on our behalf.

This Memorial Day, don’t forget to remember.

Be grateful. Celebrate all the good things you enjoy in our nation. Pause before you eat your holiday meal and thank God for the blessings you enjoy and for those who gave their lives to secure those blessings.

You probably know someone—maybe even a family member—who sacrificed for our nation. Keep their memory alive by retelling their stories each Memorial Day. Dedicate the day in their honor. Our children need to know these things—we all do.

Remember that God gave us this country—the United States of America—to belong to, so let’s be grateful for His gift on Memorial Day.


*For further reading about Nelson Jones and my grandfather, Carl T. Jones who also sacrificed 5 years fighting abroad in WWII (and oddly, helped design Margraten Cemetery), I recommend Citizen Soldier: Carl T. Jones written by my father, Raymond B. Jones.