As I sit here in Iraq missing Father’s Day with my family for the second time since Sept. 11, 2001, my mind wanders to the promise I made to my son the day he was born. As a former Marine who lost 241 brothers in the Beirut bombing on Oct. 23, 1983, Sept. 5, 2001, was the first time in 18 years that I knew why I wasn’t in that building.
I held my son for the first time and thought of the Four Freedoms as four things I would promise him. If I could provide him these things, I would be a successful father. Six days later, our country was attacked, and it seemed as if “Freedom from Fear” would never again be a reality.
The Four Freedoms were presented by President Franklin Roosevelt during his 1941 State of the Union address. In 1943 they were immortalized by Norman Rockwell. The first painting, “Freedom of Speech,” depicts an ordinary man standing and speaking freely at what appears to be a town meeting. The city of Burbank thinks enough of this painting that it currently hangs in our council chambers.
The second, “Freedom of Worship,” shows an eclectic group of Americans praying together. All inclusive, a place for all of us, however we choose to worship.
The third is an iconic depiction of what many families consider to be the holiday meal. “Freedom from Want” shows a happy family surrounded by abundance as the lady of the house serves the main course, a turkey big enough for all.
The final painting, “Freedom from Fear,” shows a mother and father tucking their son safely in to his bed. As I watched the coverage of the 9/11 attack on America, I thought, “How would my son ever know life without the fear of this happening again?” He has watched his National Guard father leave twice to serve in two separate combat zones, and he knows it is because there are bad people in our world.
But as I sit here, I think back to what my wife and I have tried to do for him. We live in a city where police response time is measured in seconds, not minutes, but he doesn’t know that.
Before I left last spring, the hills surrounding Burbank were ablaze. I can only imagine how my son’s face must have been glued to the window as my wife picked him up at school and he tried to watch the fire on their way home. As my wife parked the car, he jumped out and stood on the front lawn to get a better view. I thought he would be disappointed because by now the flames were gone and the sky began to clear. Instead he put his hands on his hips and with confidence proudly stated: “Wow, Chief Tracy put that one out quick.” It was an amusing moment for my wife and I then, but as I think back, I see how the city of Burbank has provided him that “Freedom from Fear.”
I’m not a politician, and I’m not in a position to comment on the status of our world. But as I sit here on the other side of the world, I have complete confidence that my family is safe in Burbank. I can think of no greater gift our community could afford me.
PAUL W. MCKENNA JR. is an Army Sgt. First Class stationed in Iraq.