July 4, 2008: I am stationed at Fort Knox, KY, training with the Armor Officer Leadership Course. 5+ months of day-in, day-out training; most of which out in the mud-caked slopes of northern Kentucky. The guys I am enduring this with will attest to the fact that it’s a grueling course, but they will also tell you that it was one of the best experiences of our lives.
I haven’t seen many of them since we graduated, we formed bonds that will last a lifetime, and still keep in touch. While the course was months in length, you could count the total number of days we had “off” on two hands. One such day was Independence Day, and I remember it well; it was my first as a Lieutenant - a leader within our nation’s military.
The day was filled with a number of celebratory activities scheduled at Knox, up in Louisville, and around the local area. That night, there was to be a party at the airfield including a large fireworks display, loads of food, and live music headlined by ZZ Top.
We didn’t go.
Instead, we spent the day gathered at a common on post, grilled cheap burgers & hot dogs, shared jokes at one another’s expense (usually LT Hoover’s), and drank good beer. Why skip all the festivities that evening? 4am the next morning was our hard time to get back out to the field for tank gunnery. Instead, I packed my ruck and fell asleep to the booming sounds of fireworks off in the distance.
Independence Day has a special meaning for me. Prior to the Declaration, the colonies each had their own individual struggle with British rule. But on July 4, 1776, we, as a nation, came together as one voice against tyranny and oppression. Merchants, farmers, sailors, blacksmiths, cobblers, artisans, statesmen and barkeeps decided as one: enough is enough.
Once word of the Declaration reached General Washington on July 9, 1776, he was not in a celebratory mindset. His army, having successfully ousted the British from Boston a few months prior, was now occupying New York City in hopes of defending it against an imminent British invasion. He personally reads Jefferson’s words to his men in the streets of the city, while British naval ships gather in the bay by the hundreds. The short, simple declaration motivates the men, and they immediately go back to work preparing defenses in and around the city.
Washington and his army would eventually lose New York, as well as many major battles to follow. Even when the war was at its most bleak - when British leadership began celebrating defeat of the rebellion, and signers of the Declaration were scattering across the colony for fear of capture and execution - the volunteers and militiamen of the Continental Army continued on. No longer were they simply rioting against unjust laws; they were defending their country.
As such, this is a day to remember what it took to win liberty, and what it takes to preserve it.
Today, we will celebrate the bold risks and sacrifices of those who, in 1776, were willing to put their lives on the line to live free. I welcome you to join us, as hundreds of our friends and fellow patriots will gather at the brewery to raise a glass in honor of them.
As an American, you are independent; free to live life your way. Freedom is indeed a beautiful thing, but it takes work at all levels - soldiers and civilians - to preserve it.
So, to me, Independence Day is not a day of gluttony, drunkenness and explosions. It’s the day to celebrate the freedom we work so hard to keep.
At dawn on July 5, 2008, I climbed into the turret of my Abrams with my fellow Lieutenants - men willing to voluntarily give themselves to the cause of “defending the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic” - and we went back to work.
Miss you guys; Scouts Out.