A little more than a year after the first battles of the Revolution were fought at Lexington and Concord, the second Continental Congress, meeting in the state house in Philadelphia, adopted the Declaration of Independence. At the time, they were stirring words on paper. It would take a long, trying war – more than five years to Yorktown and almost another two years for a peace treaty to be signed in Paris recognizing the former colonies as an independent nation.
We celebrate the nation’s 234th birthday on July Fourth; and across all those years, through long and trying times, there has been the Army. As George Washington told the Continental Army upon assuming its command, “The fate of unborn millions now depends, under God, on the conduct and courage of this Army.”
This Army has never failed the country in its time of need. The Army’s history is the nation’s history.
I want to share some insights with you from the Army’s birthday a few weeks ago to illustrate that bond between the Army and the citizens of the United States.
Our chief of staff, Gen. George W. Casey Jr., said at the celebration of the Army’s birthday in the Pentagon courtyard, “At its core is the history of our people – ordinary Americans, ordinary men and women who have done extraordinary things over time for this great country. Our history is a story of personal courage, selfless service and sacrifice by more than 30 million men and women who have served the country and served this Army over the last 235 years.”
Secretary John McHugh took up that theme. “We should be humbled by the generations of soldiers who have stood at our nation’s call in time of both war and peace.”
We are again a nation at war, engaged in one of the longest struggles in our history, that requires agility and great strength of character and will.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates was to that point. “I am awed by [soldiers’] ability to adapt and succeed in a mission that at various stages has called upon them to be scholars, teachers, policemen, farmers, bankers, engineers, social workers and, of course, warriors – often all at the same time.”
He added, “The unwavering dedication to duty, to our country, and to all Americans embodied in the Army motto, ‘This we’ll defend’ has guaranteed that our freedom and security, though tested, has never faltered – and will never fail.”
That is the unyielding spirit that defines us as Americans. It is a faith in the future that allows us to overcome the many challenges – militarily and economically --that confront our nation. It is the faith that the signers of the Declaration of Independence had when they pledged their sacred honor to that cause.
More than 200,000 soldiers are deployed worldwide, with the majority of them in Afghanistan and Iraq. Where and when they can, they too will mark the Fourth. Their service is the reason we can celebrate it as well.
Say a prayer for the troops.
Please also as we head into the long and expected to be hot holiday weekend, drive safely and exercise caution when outdoors.
Happy Fourth of July!