This is the first time in years that I have been home for July 4th. Every summer during college, I was studying abroad on this holiday. Once, when I was in Spain, my Spanish culture professor greeted our class with, “Happy Day of Independence!” The Spaniards of his generation vividly remembered the day their country gained it’s independence after decades under a cruel dictatorship. They wanted to make sure that everyone living in freedom appreciated it, and would never let anyone take it from them.
I was raised in a community that did it’s best to help that happen. July 4th began with speeches about the Declaration of Independence and those who sacrificed to preserve it. I recall World War II veterans participating in uniform and recent immigrants describing what America meant to them. Then a major street closed for a big block party and people throughout the town─regardless of age, race, occupation, political persuasion, religious belief, or the lack thereof—united in celebration. This included a parade with homemade floats, antique cars, and children on trikes, bikes, and scooters with flags attached to their wheels or handlebars. I always carried the basket I’m holding in this picture, filled it with candies, and passed them out to those lining the parade route. We ended at the town square where everyone enjoyed hot dogs, lemonade, strawberry shortcake, and each other. Today I get to go again.
The United States is unique because instead of being built on a common ancestry, it is built upon a set of beliefs, stated as truths, that all people are created equal, that they are endowed with certain inalienable rights, and that government is designed to safeguard those rights through the consent of the governed.
It is also unique because extraordinary people and events caused it. The leaders of the Revolution were young with no prior revolutionary experience. George Washington had never commanded an army in battle. He was neither a learned man nor a powerful speaker, but he had phenomenal courage, conviction, and intelligence. He made mistakes, but he learned from them. He was someone people would follow, and he refused to give up. In his heart, he believed in a guiding force greater than all of them, and many who were there agreed. Against all odds, he led them to victory through a bloody, eight and one-half year war. An example is the Battle of Brooklyn in 1776. The Americans were totally outsmarted, outgunned, and outnumbered. They didn’t stand a chance. That night, a howling windstorm arose that let them escape undetected across the East River, muffling the sound of their retreat under cover of darkness. If the wind had gone in the other direction, the British would have brought their warships up the River and trapped them. The war would have ended then in defeat and the Declaration of Independence would have been destroyed.
These inexperienced leaders created a country in which more people enjoyed more liberty and more prosperity than had ever been seen at any time anywhere else on earth. July 4th is a day for Americans not only to remember them and the birth of our nation, but to remember that we should use the freedoms they gave us to go after our dreams.