By Reg Chapman

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Jan Vanek truly knows the cost of freedom.

Her son, 22-year-old Sgt. Joe Vanek, lost his life on the battlefield in Iraq in 2007. He received a Bronze Star and Purple Heart for his service.

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“People sacrifice, families sacrifice, we are one of many Gold Star families,” Vanek said. “We remember when we were initiated into that exclusive club, but we would give everything not to be a member.”

Vanek and her daughter, Anne St. Martin, were proud Tuesday not only of Joe’s service, but of his father, Frank, who served in Vietnam.

Both know Independence Day mean celebration to many, but they don’t want people to forget why Americans are able to have such gatherings.

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“People celebrate being American, they celebrate their freedom, but they also understand that freedom is not free,” St. Martin said. “There are families, many families like ours that, every holiday, they have one empty seat at that table, they are missing a person they love.”

Joe’s family does not want the U.S. to forget its greatness and how the original band of brothers established that with the Declaration of Independence.

The last line of that great document rings true to this Gold Star family.

“We mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor,” Vanek quoted.

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It’s a pledge this family hopes will be revisited by all on Independence Day.

Reg Chapman