The Value of Freedom

by Thong Ba Le

Last year, summer had just begun to bring warm weather from the south to the Washington metropolitan area, along with humidity and hazy sunshine. One early morning, the sun rose above the pine trees in front of my house as I was writing a short story about my years in the Navy. I could faintly hear the sound of water pumping in the fish tank in the living room. My thoughts were drifting along with the words that steadily appeared on the monitor of my PC. And suddenly, a strange feeling coursed through me when I typed the words "fleeing for freedom." I stopped and turned around and looked at the Statue of Liberty that lay on the shelf under the map of Vietnam. I had prayed for my country and meditated in front of that shelf in hopes of finding peace of mind after days and days of hard work and tirelessly laboring since I moved in this house 17 years ago. I had prayed that freedom and happiness would soon come to my country and my poor people who had lived under the dictatorship of the Communists since April, 1975.

The Statue of Liberty, the symbol for democracy, justice and equality had guided the spirit of freedom for the world. With that thought and subsequent inspiration, I saved my story and started a new file to write a poem in celebration of the Fourth of July, the Independence Day of the United States of America, which would come in two weeks. After two hours of thinking and searching for the best words that would transform the song in my soul into poetry, I completed a sonnet about the Liberty Bell, and all it symbolizes, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania:

Liberty Bell

Liberty Bell, you're standing alone.
Your many cracks, the history of which
are seen from across the Convention Hall.
In the Declaration's birthplace of this
country of freedom and opportunities,
life, love and happiness are preserved
as well as the pursuit of liberty,
so justice, the human rights can be served.
O Liberty Bell, spirit of the Land,
keep healing the world with freedom sounds,
the right to live is placed in people hands
'til people discover dreams can be found.
O Liberty Bell, you have not been standing alone,
without your sounds, human rights would be gone

One week before July 4th, I sent emails to my American friends whom I knew before in Vietnam and to some colleagues from my company where I had worked for the past 22 years and attached the poem. I enjoyed receiving responses from them--some called me on the phone and some replied by email to either compliment me or to encourage me. But the one thing that so surprised me was that each and every friend of mine thanked me for reminding him of his blessed fortune, of living in freedom for the past two hundred years since the Declaration of Independence in 1776. My American friends had written: "Sometimes, due to daily life under pressure, and to dealing continuously with challenges that we have to face everyday, we truly forget that we have been so fortunate and blessed to be free, and we thought this freedom had just come to us."

Then they concluded: "We have taken it for granted and forget that we had to earn it."

My friends' observation and acknowledgement stayed in my mind for many sleepless nights in the following months. I was sad to think that people did not realize how important it was to be free. I felt sorrow that they did not recognize that freedom was as vital as the air they breathed, not until freedom was about to be lost or until there was not enough air to breathe. To live in freedom was a right that was given by the Creator to mankind. One only recognized it when freedom was taken away by force, by dictatorship or by slavery.

It was early morning and the dew had drenched the leaves in my backyard like tears from heaven. My thoughts were flowing along with my sadness as I recalled a videotape that I viewed a while ago about the unfortunate Vietnamese boatpeople who died at sea on their way to seek a free world:

He was about to die in the stormy "East sea"
on that journey crossing the ocean to be free,
he heard in the wind the roar of the pirates
who molested and destroyed chaste life of his lady...

The above stanza of my poem only partially describes the heartbreaking stories of the Vietnamese boat people and the expensive price that they had to pay when they dared to cross the Pacific Ocean flee from the Communist regime, in search of freedom. Thousands of innocent Vietnamese left their birthplace, left behind their ancestors' tombs and their most precious valuables. They shared cramped spaces aboard narrow boats that rocked and rolled with the white-capped waves and windy rough seas for only one reason: "To seek the freedom that was taken away by force when the Communist dictators took over South Vietnam."

The eastern sea had become a mass grave of free Vietnamese, their corpses feed for the hungry sharks. Girls and women were brutally raped by barbaric pirates on their trip to find the wonderland where the Statue of Liberty and her bright torch was waiting to guide the miserable refugees to her love, to opportunity and a free country.

The value of freedom was so high that the freedom-seekers had to pay, but there are not many refugees who still remember the only reason that we decided to flee our homeland. At the time, if we were asked why we left Vietnam, then each and every one of us did not hesitate to respond: "For our freedom." Today, perhaps because we are satisfied with our material, comfortable and luxurious lives in this country that has become our sanctuary, we have forgotten the reason why, on that April, 30 1975, the last day of a war of idealism between the Vietnam patriots and communists, the day from which a black history of the broken-hearted Vietnamese was written, we fled our beloved Vietnam. For Freedom. From then on, however, people started changing their beliefs.

Freedom can not be purchased with material goods, with money nor with force menace, or violence because it was a priceless gift from our creator. The spirit was present in the souls, the minds and the hearts of living creatures since their first day on this earth and no one could take it away. With that perspective in our beliefs, we should keep reminding ourselves of the real reason why we left our motherland on that heartbreaking day, so we may understand and support people who have been fighting for their rights and for freedom on this planet.

A high price has been paid for freedom, indicated by thousands of crosses in front of the tombs in the lonely and vast cemetery in Normandy, France. These are the resting-places of thousands of Allied soldiers who landed and were killed on D-Day, June 6th 1944. This is an example which recites the history of mankind, of a day when Allied Forces landed onto the beaches of France to liberate people in Europe who were living hopelessly under the control of Hitler and his Nazi regime. D-Day also marked the end of the Triple Axis' (Germany, Italy and Japan) dream to conquer the world and lead to their surrender to the Allied Forces in World War II.

(Updated Summer 2016)