Monday will be Memorial Day, and Richard Pingry, a Vietnam veteran and Rexburg resident, shared his thoughts about the meaning of the day.

“Freedom, to me, is a lot more than just walking down the street, having the right to be out after midnight, ya’ know, and that sort of thing,” Pingry said. “It’s hard to explain to people that haven’t seen places where they don’t have freedom.”

Pingry said freedom was like buying a new car and riding for miles, feeling the freedom of the wind, knowing the possibilities are endless.

“We have that kind of freedom,” Pingry said. “We can say what we want to say and stand up saying anything you want and get away with it and call it freedom of speech. You can’t do that in some countries. Some countries, you’d get shot for doing that, right off the stand where you’re talkin’.”

Pingry said he spent 31 months in Vietnam and that he is the only veteran remaining from his group of 13 soldiers who first went overseas in 1959.

“It’s not abnormal for someone to see this hat, you know, and say, ‘Well, thank you for your service,’ and shake my hand,” Pingry said. “Even now.”

Pingry said Memorial Day is significant to him because he is able to honor his fellow servicemen who passed away in the war and those who have since passed on.

Pingry said his life experiences have fostered for him a greater meaning of freedom in this nation. Pingry said he first served in Vietnam in 1959-1960 then returned in 1964 and 1972.

“I’ve been overseas fighting, and, you know, it is such a depressing thing,” Pingry said. “When you come back to the United States, that pressure’s off, and you feel that freedom, I’d call it that elation, that this is the best country in the world.”

Pingry said he served on warships and riverboats while he was in the Navy. He said he was relocated to duty stations in various locations when he was in Vietnam.

“There are people that understand it,” Pingry said. “They appreciate the soldiers and give them credit for what they do. Vietnam’s a tough war. It was a jungle war.”

Pingry said that around the time 9/11 happened, he was at a school event for his second-grade grandson when veterans were told to stand and go to the back of the room.

Pingry said he met a man who was stationed in Vietnam at the same time as he was and that the two veterans had a tender experience as teachers and students shook their hands and thanked them for their service.                       

Pingry said that after the experience, the other gentleman expressed to him that prior to this event, he had never been thanked.

Pingry said he has held various positions in the U.S. Navy, such as master chief, recruiting chief, engineer and other positions over the years.

The total amount of Americans who have payed the toll for our freedom with their lives is 1.1 million, according to the PBS NewsHour website.