Stella Pope Duarte

The great gift of freedom

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Since civilization’s beginning, the word freedom has united people from every ethnicity, color and creed in the belief that the ability to act and live as one chooses is a birthright, bestowed by God upon all humanity. 

In November, America celebrates warriors who have fought in the name of freedom for the survival of our great nation. In the Southwest, our warriors have risen from the earth’s brown clay; hewn out of the very element they shed their blood for. Our modern warriors are mirror images of the great warriors from ancient tribes who inhabited this land: Toltec, Aztec (Mexica), Mayan, Chichimeca, Anasazi and Hohokam. 

Today, descendants of Mexicans, Chicanos and Latinos along with the descendants of the ancient tribes, Pima, Maricopa, Apache, Tohono O’odham, Navajo and many others, share the same thirst for freedom as did their forefathers. 

The heart of a warrior remains the same. It is an energy that reaches for the very best in humankind, the sacrifice of self for the good of others. Often the sacrifice will mean the shedding of blood in foreign lands by men and women who, perhaps, have never ventured far from home. Still, the quest for freedom beats in their hearts, and they do not count the dangers or the distance from home as any consequence as they stand together against aggression that threatens our God-given right to freedom.

In Arizona, U.S. Marine Cpl. Ira Hayes, a Pima Indian, hoisted the American flag at Iwo Jima during World War II. The Pimas called him “Chief Falling Cloud,” a name that honored his role as a paratrooper in the service of his country. Another Arizonan, Sgt. Silvestre S. Herrera, born in Camargo, Chihuahua, in Mexico, served in the U.S. Army, and because of his heroic actions in Mertzwiller, France, in World War II, was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. Herrera lived bravely on, in spite of missing limbs, always inspiring others to a greater understanding of the gift of freedom. Both these warriors exemplified extraordinary courage and valor against an enemy in the name of freedom.

Proudly, Arizona can boast of the courageous service of the first Native American woman in history to be killed in combat while serving in the U.S. military during the invasion of Iraq. She was U.S. Army SPC Lori Piestewa, a member of the Hopi tribe born in Tuba City, Arizona. Her legacy now lives on in the form of the second highest point in the Phoenix Mountains, after Camelback Mountain. Formerly Squaw Peak, a name that roused anger in Native Americans, the mountain peak has been renamed Piestewa Peak in honor of this valiant warrior woman.

Freedom is a condition in life coveted by the world’s community, yet it is frequently misunderstood. Often, those who seek to conquer others disregard freedom and advance their own power and beliefs with no regard for the will of the people they seek to govern. This is the opposite of what freedom is all about. 

Freedom is a choice – the right to choose what is good and right by an individual who seeks the best for self and others. This is the highest pledge of freedom, and it is something that courses in the blood of warriors who today unite America’s democratic values with other freedom-loving nations in their struggle for the prize: freedom at all costs. 

Warriors, brave men and women, continue to celebrate freedom through sacrifice and allegiance to America and to the genuine values of family and homeland as exemplified by our ancient ancestors whose sacrifices have guaranteed us the right to live as masters of our own fate, and as heirs of the great gift of freedom. 

Stella Pope Duarte was born and raised in South Phoenix. She began her award-winning career in 1995 after she had a dream in which her deceased father told her that her destiny was to become a writer. Contact her at stellapopeduarte.com.

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