Photo by Cody Norman

A robed figure of Libertas, Roman goddess of freedom, stands tall in New York Harbor. Dedicated in 1886 by the people of France, Libertas bears a torch upon which is inscribed the date of the American Declaration of Independence: July 4, 1776. A broken chain lies at her feet as this statue, the Statue of Liberty, serves as a representation of the American culture and welcomes immigrants arriving from abroad.

But what does it mean to be an American?

As you stand atop the hill, watching the guard pace back and forth with such precision as he guards the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the skyline of Washington D.C. faintly peers through the trees. More than 400,000 headstones mark our nation’s fallen heroes, lying in the forefront of the nation’s capital.

Pausing for a moment to pay my respects to my great-grandfather, Captain James E. Herbert, I was overcome by the sacrifice made by each of these young men and women. Each of the headstones, markers that stretched across the 624-acre mass of rolling hills, signified the true cost of our nation’s greatest quality.

Freedom is not free.

Freedom comes at the significant cost of the more than 400,000 people who have been laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery. It comes at the price of brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, friends, husbands and wives. It comes at the price of these brave American people.

With the 11-year anniversary of the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11 rapidly approaching, I made my way to the headquarters of the U.S. Department of Defense and stood affixed at the charred black stone that is stacked among the foundation of the Pentagon. Nearly 11 years earlier, American Airlines Flight 77 tore through the first floor of the Pentagon and stole the lives of people, each of whom are marked by a cantilevered bench atop a light pool of flowing water. Each unit provides a permanent tribute to each victim who lost their life in the Pentagon, both on the airplane and in the building, on that tragic day.

With the image of American flags draped across buildings in the distance, I was surmounted by the thoughts and memories of those who perished. I was overcome by images of each plane slamming into the World Trade Center, roaring through the Pentagon and falling short into a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

Freedom is not free.

Freedom comes at a significant cost and, as I sat gazing upon the Pentagon Memorial and the tombstones in Arlington Cemetery, I realized what it means to be an American.

The name of American, which belongs to us all in our national capacity, must always acclaim the just pride of patriotism. Patriotism brings energy, faith and devotion that will light our country and all who serve it. Being an American allows us to live free and always remember.

Never forget.