Kelly Strong

This poem is important to Kelly because he wrote it as a high school senior (JROTC cadet) at Homestead High, Homestead, FL. in 1981. It is a tribute to his father, a career marine who served two tours in Vietnam. When he finds others trying to take credit for the authorship of the poem, Kelly sees it as a dishonor to the man who inspired the poem, his Dad.

Kelly is now an active duty Coast Guard pilot living in Mobile and serving at the US Coast Guard Aviation Training Center. He has three kids and a great wife, Najwa, who just completed work at the Miami VA clinic as a physical therapist.


I watched the flag pass by one day,
It fluttered in the breeze;
A young Marine saluted it,
And then he stood at ease.

I looked at him in uniform,
So young, so tall, so proud;
With hair cut square and eyes alert,
He’d stand out in any crowd.

I thought… how many men like him
Had fallen through the years?
How many died on foreign soil?
How many mothers’ tears?

How many pilots’ planes shot down
How many died at sea
How many foxholes were soldiers’ graves
No, Freedom is not Free.

I heard the sound of Taps one night,
When everything was still;
I listened to the bugler play,
And felt a sudden chill;

I wondered just how many times
That Taps had meant “Amen”
When a flag had draped a coffin
Of a brother or a friend;

I thought of all the children,
Of the mothers and the wives,
Of fathers, sons and husbands
With interrupted lives.

I thought about a graveyard
At the bottom of the sea,
Of unmarked graves in Arlington.
No. Freedom is not Free!