Tomorrow is Veteran's Day and I wanted to write a little bit about my third great grandfather, John McConnell [1780-1866] because I didn't know much about him until recently and his story is quite amazing.
From Find a Grave:
"John McConnell Jr was the first child of John and Nancy Montgomery McConnell. He was born in the Waxhaw settlement during the Revolutionary War in which his father was fighting. Only 11 days after his birth, his father was captured, imprisoned, and sentenced to be hanged. Then John Jr. contracted black smallpox and it was feared he would die.
However, his mother had survived smallpox years before, and through her nursing he survived. While he was still ill with the disease, his father escaped from the sentenced hanging and from prison and took his small family to the snow covered mountains of South Carolina to escape the British. They stayed in hiding in the mountains for over a year until his father could rejoin Col. William Bratton.
After the Revolutionary War, John Sr. took his family to Georgia, finally settling in Elbert County, Georgia. It was there that John Jr met his wife, Anna Townsend. They married in Elberton in 1800 when John Jr. was 19 and Anna was 15."
The sentence that jumps out at me is: "Only 11 days after his birth, his father was captured, imprisoned, and sentenced to be hanged."
My 4th great grandfather was sentenced to be HANGED simply because he wanted to be FREE. He wanted to live in a free country where he could vote for his president and his representatives and not be forced to live under the tyranny of a king or queen. He risked his life to be free.
We keep forgetting about that and it bothers me.
Our ancestors risked EVERYTHING to make this country a haven.
I am also related, on my dad's side, to Thomas Jefferson and George Washington. The Europeans who settled in Virginia in the 17th and 18th centuries are all pretty much related to each other. What awes me about those family connections is simple: like John McConnell, they wanted to be free. If the American Revolution had failed, all of those founding fathers would have been hanged for treason.
Let that sink in for a minute. Would you risk your life to be free? To see your children grow up free?
We take it for granted, this freedom.
I have spent a good bit of time in Russia and Kazakhstan and let me tell you, there's a stress, an unease from being in a country where average citizens don't have a lot of rights. When I went to Kazakhstan in 2007 I saw a man in the airport beaten half to death. I don't know what his crime was but the police didn't hesitate to beat him. I've never seen anything like it and I hope I never see anything like it again.
It made me very happy to be an American. I felt like a 20 lb. weight was lifted off my chest when my plane landed back in America in 2007. I remember thinking thanks be to GOD - my son will grow up in a country where he has rights and he will be free.
So my message to you this Veteran's Day is simple: cherish your freedom. If you have friends or relatives or neighbors who are veterans, thank them for their service. They risk everything to do a thankless job and they deserve respect and thanks.