Eric Watson: Reflections Of July 4th
Tuesday, July 03, 2012
On this day in history, 236 years ago, an assembly of brave and determined Americans met to announce to the world the birth of a new nation - a nation borne of ideals rather than of coercion, where the power to govern rested with the consent of the people. Adams, Franklin, and Jefferson -- starting with just a few words etched on simple parchment, these bold colonists set in motion a radical experiment in democracy and in free enterprise. In time, that experiment would be known to people all over the world by many different names -- the Land of the Free, the Home of the Brave, the Arsenal of Democracy, the Shining City on a Hill, and the World's Last Best Hope.
As modern Americans, who have enjoyed these blessings for so long, it is easy for us to forget just how groundbreaking this experiment really was. Not surprising, the Declaration of Independence signed by those visionaries caused panic in the capitals of Europe. It struck fear in the courts of monarchs and despots, most of who believed that government and tyranny were one in the same.That document was so world-shattering that King George III even ordered English churches to conduct prayer services against it. He also required his subjects to fast in preparation for a war intended to abolish it. But the Declaration of Independence also inspired enlightened men everywhere -- statesmen, scientists, philosophers, and theologians -- to abandon old ways of power and privilege and to embrace new ideals of freedom and justice. Slowly, they began to remake the world on principles that the Founders believed were self-evident.
And the world has never been the same. Today, amid the spectacular fireworks and quiet backyard gatherings, we reflect on the precious endowment given to our nation -- and to our world -- by the Founders. And we pause to remember the tremendous effort and sacrifice rendered by millions of Americans who have preserved that endowment for generations yet to come. For this is a simple fact of our history - that the swords of independence were drawn in battle before the words of independence were drafted in ink. A year before the Signing, citizen Soldiers in New England had already paid in blood for those very rights that Jefferson would call "inalienable."
Scores fell at Lexington and Concord. Thousands more would die at places like Princeton, Brandywine, and Charleston before the United States of America became a reality. Just last month your nation’s Army celebrated its 237th birthday -- those citizen Soldiers were part of the first 10 companies of expert riflemen raised and ordered to Boston – and we in uniform are proud to be a direct and enduring link to them. History has shown the tremendous potential possessed by a nation whose citizens are willing to fight for ideals -- willing to take a stand for freedom and the right of national self-determination. And this is true whether those citizens fight on their home ground or in lands far away.
The great military strategist Sir Liddell Hart once said that "Soldiers who are infused with a faith will beat men who have no faith; only a good one can withstand the impact." From the Revolutionary War all the way to the liberation of Iraq, America's Soldiers have proved the truth behind that time-tested idiom. And few have withstood their impact. This is exactly what British officers discovered at Bunker Hill, when they faced for the first time organized opposition from American infantrymen. Until that battle, British Generals like James Murray believed the colonists "were unfit for and very impatient of war."
But at Bunker Hill, those same generals discovered that conviction and moral purpose made for great Soldiers. General Gage commented that the colonial infantry had demonstrated "a conduct and spirit against us they never showed against the French." He added that they were certainly not "the despicable rabble that many had supposed them to be." The same spirit of idealism that compelled the colonists to stand in Boston also gripped the very soul of Martin Triptow. He was a barber in a small midwestern town when America entered the First World War.
As a messenger between two frontline American units, Triptow often volunteered to run dispatches between front line units. He was eventually killed by a shell that landed at his feet. When he was carried off the battlefield, a diary was discovered on his body. And on the diary's flyleaf, there appeared the words: "My Pledge." It read as follows: "We must win this war. Therefore I will work, I will save, I will sacrifice, I will endure, I will fight cheerfully and do my utmost, as if the issue of the whole struggle depended upon me alone."
But no Soldier's story better exemplifies the American commitment to ideals than the story of George Wilson. Exactly one year before the bombing of Pearl Harbor, a young Pennsylvanian named George Wilson enlisted in the United States Army. He was only 16 at the time, and he had to lie to his recruiter to pass muster. But even at that young age, Wilson believed that only his country could save the world from fascism and from the insanity of dictatorships. When the time came for his country to fight alongside the last free nations on earth, he wanted to be ready.
George Wilson was more than ready. He became a living statistical anomaly of the Second World War. Casualty rates in that conflict were as high as 100% for frontline units. But George Wilson saw combat in five of the worst battles of the European Theater -- in the Normandy Hedgerows, the Siegfried Line, Aachen, the Hurtgen Forest and the Battle of the Bulge. He was wounded three times at the Bulge, and eventually was captured by the Germans. He spent the last few months of the war in the infamous Zwickau Prisoner Camp before being liberated.
George Wilson believed that a medal is a useless scrap of ribbon and iron unless it stands for something. To him, standing for something is about making a lifelong commitment to the principles and the values on which America was founded.
It means working in VA hospitals to ensure that all wounded or disabled veterans receive the best care possible. It means being proud of one's nation, to fly the flag in one's community, and to work on behalf of patriotic organizations to keep those communities strong. And it means never failing to support America's troops wherever they may serve -- and for whatever reason.
You see, Mr. Wilson and Mr. Triptow had what the Army refers to as the warrior ethos –which says in part that a Soldier will never quit and never accept defeat. American soldiers have always answered the call. So we today follow in the footsteps of that generation, liberating the oppressed and fostering democratic reforms. As long as America is blessed with such young heroes, the efforts of the Founding Fathers will not have been in vain and the fruits of their labors will be preserved for each future generation of Americans.
Rep. Eric Watson