Chase Bowker: 2017 Sacramento County Academic Decathlon Speech

When I tell people what I’m doing after high school, I get incredulous looks. Sometimes some blank stares. Or my favorite. The question, “Why?” You’re wasting so much potential. From a young age, I always knew what I wanted to do with my life. Even when I said I couldn’t. I hid my aspirations because of a negative stigma that I thought went along with them. So, when I joined the Marines this last august, and told my family that college had to be put on hold for a little while, I reveled in their looks of disbelief. And answered their questions of, “Why?” with, “Why not?” But, in all actuality, I didn’t know the reason. I knew what I wanted. I knew how to get there. But the reason was completely foreign to me. This was, until last December when I took a trip to Washington, D.C. And, among the numerous national monuments and museums stood one that sent chills down my spine that had nothing to do with the 17 degree temperature that day. It’s relatively small in comparison to the World War II monument. It seems to awe you with its scope and grandeur. Almost imitating the war it stands for. And it’s not quite as somber as the Vietnam Wall whose long list of names seems to silence even the surrounding traffic. It’s nestled in the corner of the National Mall, and often walked right by. Unfortunately, like so many history teachers do, due to the war it commemorates. It’s accurately dubbed The Forgotten War. I am, of course, talking about the Korean War Memorial. And, in it, stand a troop of men. Marching, as if through a torrential downpour, with a scene of faces and helicopters carved into a wall in the background. Culminating in a single American flag. And a small, yet powerful inscription. That freedom is not free. And how those words ring true. The freedom today has been paid for by the honor, the courage, the commitment, and in some cases, even the ultimate sacrifice of veterans past and present. This fact was hammered home by a day trip to Arlington National Cemetery the next day where over 400,000 service members are interred. My family are proud to say that we have 36 people buried there. But, as I stood walking among the tombstones, I realized something. I was standing in the proof and the payment for freedom today. And that, alone, is a very heavy thought. It got me thinking why I chose to join the Marines. I chose to do it to pay back those who have paved the way for me. And to pave the way for future generations. I want to be the one to pay for the freedom of speech. For the freedom of religion. And the freedom of assembly. So that nobody else has to. I know that sounds very patriotic of me. And almost bleeding red. But some of us have to be in order for the rest of us to enjoy the freedoms that we know and love. And I did this with no intention of asking for thanks. But, I do encourage you that next time you see a service member—past or present—you go up to them. You shake their hands. Say thank you. And think a little bit more about the price of our freedom.

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