When Freedom Is Not Free

It's so fitting that my Independence Day post features one of my all-time favorite students. Oh, I know, counselors are NOT supposed to pick favorites, but I am a sucker for a sincere smile.  Consider this scenario: You're a newbie counselor at a huge 5A high school. It's your first week and you're busily trying to make ends meet, meeting your students for the first time, and working overtime in a desperate attempt to make their schedules work. The line of students who need help winds down the hallway outside your door and out into the courtyard. You've got your marching orders. No schedule changes without authorized approval, no exceptions! Then, in walks this amazingly adorable, honest-looking, clean-cut freshman boy. Determination and drive exude from this tall teen. He introduces himself as Ray Joseph and respectfully requests - da, da, DA - a schedule change. Keep in mind that I've got my orders. No changes without approval, no exceptions. But he's convincing, really convincing. 
   He says that he'd like to change his schedule and I can't even remember what he wanted to drop. All I know is that he was requesting to enroll in journalism. Going through the motions to appease him, I checked the prerequisites and journalism was NOT available to freshman without instructor approval. When I told him that I simply couldn't honor his request, this handsome young man just smiled the sweetest and maybe most mischievous smile I've ever seen and politely asked for me to call Ms. J and see if she wouldn't make an exception. So I found myself dialing the journalism room and sure enough, Ms. Jameson authorized his schedule change. That's exactly how I came to know Ray Joseph. He'd probably have been one of your favorites, too.
   After I left Clear Creek High, I kind of lost track of Ray Joseph except for an occasional meeting at the Friendswood HEB grocery store where he worked during his senior year. His smile always made my day.  Turns out he went to college in San Marcos for a bit, but felt called into military service after the 9/11 attacks. He wanted to help the children of Iraq. He enlisted in Army and went off to train with the Screamin' Eagles, 101st Airborne Division. SPC Hutchinson graduated the Distinguished Honor Graduate at Ft. Benning, Georgia, winning him the Army Achievement Medal. He was then awarded the Bronze Star, the Purple Heart, the Army Commendation Medal and Army Service Ribbon, the Combat Infantryman's Badge, and the Basic Parachutist Badge. All of this and he was only twenty years old.
   This young soldier served with pride and distinction in the Army for fifteen months. He was supposed to come home to be with his family for his grandmother's surgery, it was his turn. But, figuring he'd be home for Christmas soon enough, Ray Joseph allowed a homesick comrade to switch with him and take his flight home instead. That's the kind of kid Ray Joseph was. Just before his holiday homecoming, Ray Joseph's life here on earth was cut short when an IED exploded underneath his vehicle.
  His parents, Michael and Deborah, know only too well that freedom is not free. They have kept his mission and memory alive by honoring students like their son at the annual Salute to Heroes celebration in League City with scholarships to further their dreams. Ray Joseph is a true American hero, a bright light that I will never forget! 
   Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.  John 15:13


  1. Barbara. This is my first visit to your corner of the cyber universe. I've read several posts and think we could be friends in real life (even without the WI thread to connect us.)

    I used this same title for my own 4th of July post, earlier this month. Mine was a brief reflection on our son-in-law's time in Iraq and it ends with a happy ending, as we were fortunate to have Scott return safely to us.

    I am so grateful to you for sharing the story of Ray Joseph with the wider world. His service and dedication are a reflection on his parents devotion and steadfast love while raising him. I hope that your post brought them a measure of reassurance that their dear son's ultimate sacrifice will be remembered & appreciated for a long time to come. No. Freedom isn't free. It is born on the hearts of those who have lost a loved one, catching a tear while setting the table with too many plates -- before remembering in disbelief the loss too heavy to grasp.

    Thank you for your gracious words..... may they offer some healing to those who mourn.

  2. Thank you, Debbie, for your beautiful affirmation of my work. Ray Joseph was an ordinary boy who enriched life exponentially in his short time with us and I miss his playful disposition and uplifting attitude. I shared your kind note with his parents and they, too, appreciated your sentiments. They are an extraordinary family who keep Ray Joseph's memory alive by finding like-minded young people to encourage and support with that RJH Foundation scholarship. I stand in awe of their sacrifice.

  3. This era of our being able to reach out to one another thru the stories shared on blogs is amazing indeed. This spring, as an author/illustrator I had the amazing invitation to travel to 4 of our US Army bases across Europe and sing and dance with the children of our troops. There were numerous occasions where the mommies & daddies came to the concerts in their fatigues and uniforms and sang along with the children. It was truly the most heart warming and eye opening responsibilities that I've ever had.

    While I will never know Ray Joseph, I feel as though I met his comrads, his buddies and his contemporaries on my small USO-like tour. I was humbled to have had such an opportunity. I will never fathom the heart break for his parents, but please let them know that I will say a prayer for them as they deal with their grief over the days and years ahead.

    While we were in Italy, we had a surreal experience in the city of Verona. I blogged about it at length. We happened to be in their colloseum at the very moment that the city of Verona was re-enacting their liberation at the end of the World War. When we came down into the throng of Italians we were hugged and greeted as "Americans" -- as the very heros who had saved them from the clutches of those decades ago. I was so proud of Ray Joseph for standing in line for that assignment, to step forward to contribute to the improvement of this world of ours. He and all of his fallen brothers (and sisters) were being celebrated at that very moment..... and all of those World War era parents that lost a child, were being remembered.

    Thank you again for sharing Ray Joseph and making his story one that will give pause and reflection for all who will read it here. May we always reach out to the families who have lost, so that others may be protected.

    I will hold this story close to my heart.


I really enjoy hearing from my readers; thanks for sharing your reflections with us!

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