The Fourth of July is a great day in America. It is the day we celebrate our independence but I sometimes wonder if, in the midst of cookouts, parties, fireworks and fun we haven’t forgotten what freedom really means. Veterans know. Warriors held captive in foreign prisons know. Those who serve protecting us from terrorists know. The families of those who gave their lives for freedom know.
The inconvenient truth about freedom is it is seldom, if ever, given. Freedom is won. Freedom is earned. To be honest, most of us didn’t earn it. We enjoy what someone else earned for us. For those of us who have not earned the freedom we enjoy it is incumbent upon us to express our undying gratitude to those who have. I enjoy the freedom to express my opinion about freedom because someone bled for that right. I didn’t bleed for it but I enjoy the right all the same.
What is really amazing about freedom is the price for freedom is paid by people from every ethnic group, every socio-economic class, every race. Men and women from important families have bled for it, died for it and they did so right alongside men and women from families no one ever heard of.
Do you know the most amazing thing about freedom is that the people who give it away are the people who did not pay for it. People who cast away their freedom did not bleed. Their relatives did not die in the quest to gain it. People who give away their freedom do so because they no longer appreciate what it cost. They fail to see its real value. They look at it like a third generation heir to a fortune. They did not earn it. They see it as a birthright. They fail to appreciate it and, worst of all, they scorn those who are willing to continue paying the price for it.
Here is my fear. We in America today are like third generation heirs to the family fortune. We look at freedom as our right but someone else’s responsibility. That attitude is what allows freedom to erode. After the 9/11 attacks, we ran to the government for protection and we were willing to give away some of our rights to feel safe. I disagree with the very idea. Safety is an illusion. It is like a vapor that takes shape for a moment then shifts, vanishes, is blown away by the wind. The truth of the matter is the government might be able to protect you from an invasion by a foreign army, might, but the government can’t guarantee your safety. They can’t guarantee you won’t die. They certainly can’t deter a single lunatic from setting off a bomb in a crowded public area. That is an illusion.
You have the right to be born free, to live free and to die free and if you happen to be safe along the way then you have something to truly be thankful for. Safety is not a right but safety can be a by product of freedom. There are no guarantees. Ask a soldier if he feels safe when he is on patrol in Afghanistan. Is he free, yes. Is he safe, no. But you are free because he has elected to put his life between you and an enemy that would kill you if he had the opportunity. That is real freedom. The very idea that someone would insert themselves between an enemy and an idea that all men should be free and that he would not value his life above yours or mine is amazing. When you think about it, freedom itself is amazing and the price of freedom, the price so many have been willing to pay, is more amazing still.
I photographed a man last week, Lieutenant General Frank Libutti, USMC retired, who is receiving the Audie Murphy Patriotism Award during the annual Spirit of America Festival on the Fourth of July. Gen. Libutti began his military career as a lieutenant on the ground in Vietnam with the 1st Battalion, 9th Marines. In the opening stages of what would become Operation Buffalo he was sent in with a company of Marines to rescue another company that had been ambushed by the North Vietnamese regular army near the demilitarized zone. Libutti led an air insert mission to rescue the company under fire and bring out the dead and wounded Marines. He was wounded three times that day. The battle began on July 2, 1967 and would not conclude until July 15, 1967.
Libutti’s Marine Corp career ended with command of the US Marine Corp forces in the Pacific but that was not the end of his service to America. Libutti joined the NYPD as deputy commissioner in charge of the Counterterrorism Bureau. He then moved to the Department of Homeland Security overseeing intelligence operations as the undersecretary for Information Analysis and Infrastructure Protection. Libutti will be honored July 4th in Decatur. He understands the cost, and the value, of freedom.
The photographic set up for the portrait was fairly simple. General Libutti’s father had painted a portrait of him at the time of his promotion to Lt. Colonel. It was near the head of a stairway which had plenty of open space to set lights. I used an Elinchrom monolight with a small softbox for my main light. I then put an SB800 strobe very close to the painting just to add light to the area of the face. I placed another SB800 in a collapsed umbrella to the left of the set to add a separation on the back side. I shot the portrait with a Nikon D3s and an 80-200mm lens.
On a personal note, meeting men like General Libutti is such a great side effect of my job. I look at the things he has accomplished in his life and wonder at how very close to death he came that day in Vietnam. I would say he maximized his opportunities. It makes me wonder if I am maximizing mine. What about you? Something to think about with your fireworks this Fourth of July.
Photo copyright Gary Cosby Jr., The Decatur Daily. The opinions expressed in this blog are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of my employer.