As families gather for cookouts and fireworks during the Fourth of July weekend, those with loved ones serving overseas in the military are painfully aware that the freedom we celebrate isn’t free.

Just as our nation’s Independence was won by patriots willing to fight for the country they loved, it is protected every day by men and women willing to pay the ultimate price.

First Baptist Church of Claremore is remembering those — past and present — who have fought for our freedom with a special “Veterans Wall” display in the church’s main foyer.

“This is the third year our Veterans Wall has been emphasized,” said Pastor Ted Kersh. “It’s very meaningful to our people — especially to some of our men who served in World War II and Vietnam.”

Church members submit photographs of family members who have served or are currently serving in the military. A group of volunteers place each picture on a board, attaching a star that denotes the soldier’s name, relation to the church member, military branch and years of service.

This year, pictures of men and women fill six large boards which are stationed throughout the entrance to the Worship Center.

The photos span the centuries — one dating all the way back to the Civil War. Harrison Williams, great-grandfather of FBC member Albert Sorenson, served in the Army from 1861-1863.

“There is a lot of pride,” Kersh said. “I see folks showing pictures of their relatives to one another. I enjoy watching some of our men whose pictures are up there sharing their stories.

“We have one man who served in Vietman where he was involved in some heavy things. It’s not something he talked about before. This has almost given him a type of release as he has talked about his war experiences.”

But the display is more than a conversation piece, it is sobering proof that “war and military service is personal,” Kersh said.

“It’s a continual reminder that our freedom isn’t free. In particular, our young adults and students need to know that.”

Photographs of soldiers from World War II and the Vietman War hang side by side with pictures of those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, some of whom have returned home in the past year.

Many families are represented with multiple pictures.

“There are pictures of brothers, and fathers and sons who have served,” Kersh said, “It almost seems like military service is hereditary, they think ‘If I had a father or grandfather who served, then I should serve.’ This tribute is a way we can express our gratitude to all of them.”