Some came at the head of armies; others, in the chains of slavery. Some fled the tyranny of despots, the terror of war, or the pangs of famine. For many reasons, they came. They scratched a living from the wilderness. Some fought for a new way of life while others fought to preserve their native culture. Yet, immigrant or native, poor or powerful, they forged a nation, and earned the right to call themselves Americans. They toiled in the coal mines and cotton fields, on whalers, and skipjacks and riverboats. They forged iron into steel, laid rails, carried mortar, and fired bricks. They plowed and hammered and welded and sawed. From their labor and sacrifice came this great nation, a land where freedom is far more than a word.
They struggled for their survival against enemies from afar, at places burned forever in our national memory, Valley Forge and Belleau Wood, the bloody beaches of Normandy, the frozen reservoir at Chosin, the jungles of Vietnam, and deserts of Afghanistan, Kuwait and Iraq. Sometimes there were struggles within, as well. In the fields of Gettysburg, the snow at Wounded Knee, and the streets of Birmingham they strove with one another. Yet from the crucible of conflict, emerged a national conscience that will neither tolerate tyranny, nor abide injustice. The one great legacy of all their struggles is that we are all Americans, endowed with the blessing of liberty and the opportunity to participate in our own government.
There is a cost to this, however, and sometimes its price is severe. Understand this. Freedom is not free. Neither is it ever paid for in full. It is ours for the present, purchased at a terrible price by the tears of countless mothers, the sweat of countless laborers and the rich, red blood of countless patriots. Though it is our heritage, we do not own it; but hold it ever in trust for those who will follow.
This week, as you celebrate our nation’s birthday, please take a moment to reflect in gratitude on the many special gifts with which we are blessed. You, and I, and all of us together, we are America. We are unique among the nations of the earth. We may argue among ourselves at times. We may struggle on our path to find the right, but as God gives us the strength and wisdom, we will always find the way. Never forget, we are Americans, and in the end, we will all stand together, strong and proud and free.
Rex Andrea, wounded in action, 4 July 1967