Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Thoughts on Independence Day

On July 2, 1776, the Second Continental Congress voted to approve a resolution of independence from England that had been proposed in June by Richard Henry Lee of Virginia.  The resolution declared the colonies free from the rule of Great Britain.  Following the vote the Congress focused on a document prepared by a committee of five members but mostly authored by Thomas Jefferson.  They debated and revised some wording of the document and finally approved it as the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776.

John Adams had written to his wife, Abigail, on July 3rd, telling her of the vote on July 2nd, without realizing it would be a different day that turned out to be celebrated. 

“The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.”
Little did he know that even though he had the date wrong, the other things he had said would turn out to be true, even 236 years later.  Independence Day is one of the largest and most celebrated American holidays with parades and fireworks in many places.  As it should be.

But I wonder how many people sit back on July 4th and truly contemplate what it means?  Independence from England was not free.  It cost thousands of lives in the Continental Army and the militias that had sprung up all over the land; volunteers one and all.  They fought for a dream – a homeland where they were truly free from government interference in their lives.

I believe the first time I realized exactly what Independence Day meant to me was when I was in the Air Force.   I wore the uniform for eight years and during those years I realized just what a great country we are.  I suppose I always knew but I think I took it for granted until I was a part of the group who volunteered to defend her. 

I was in basic training on July 4, 1977.  There were no backyard barbecues or fireworks for us.  What we did was celebrate with a parade of all the young airmen in front of the base general and base commander.  I remember how proud I was to be a part of it.  Another great memory I have is my first retreat ceremony – standing with about 1000 other young men and women listening to “Taps” and saluting as the flag was lowered and folded.  I have never forgotten that feeling of honor – and I never will.

My family has been traced back to the famous Clark family of Albemarle, Virginia, who gave birth to General George Rogers Clark and William Clark, two important explorers who helped settle this great nation.  Although they did not sign the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution, they knew many of the men who did.  Both George and William reported directly to Thomas Jefferson on several occasions and also knew Mr. Washington.  George was instrumental in furthering the cause of freedom on the Western front of the war.  With a small brigade of volunteers he took the towns of Kaskaskia, Vincennes, and Fort Detroit from the British, capturing Lieutenant Governor Henry Hamilton.  Clark was often credited as the “Conqueror of the old Northwest.”  And William, of course, was the first Clark in recorded history to cross the United States all the way to the Pacific.  I have done it twice in my life.

We, as a nation, have fought several wars since those early days.  We have gone to the aid of other countries who were struggling for their freedom and have been a friend and ally to many peoples around the world.  Our flag stands for freedom – a freedom that many other countries model themselves after.  And I’m very proud to be a part of it.

I spent a total of 30 years serving my country in the military and in federal service.  Even though I have disagreements with the government now and then, I would do it again in a minute.  I didn’t serve for glory or fame.  In all honesty, when I joined the Air Force it was to get away from home and get a good job and when I took the job at the Lompoc penitentiary it was to feed my family.  But both jobs surprised me in the way they effected my thinking about the USA.  If anything the work made me even more proud of my country than ever.

Yes, I am a proud American and tomorrow I will celebrate her independence with friends and family.  Regardless of what some people think, America truly is the greatest nation on Earth.  We have our problems, sure.  But you don’t see millions of people a year trying to get into other countries any way they can as they try to get here.  They know what I’ve known for a long time.  God has truly blessed the USA and her people.  In the words of Lee Greenwood:

“I’m proud to be an American – where at least I know I’m free.
And I won’t forget the men who died who gave that right to me.
And I’ll gladly stand up next to you and defend her still today.
For there ain’t no doubt I love this land….
God bless the USA.”

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