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July 4th- A Salute to Veterans

Posted by on July 7, 2013 at 10:10 AM

As we continue into the fourth of July extended weekend, I have realized that I can never get enough of Patriotic parades, and fireworks. When the original Declaration of Independence was presented to the Continental Congress on July 2nd and ratified by vote on July 4th, it was with much pomp and circumstance. It was definitely on the mind of the original committee of five (Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman and Robert Livingston) that what they were presenting was not just a document for 1776, but for posterity. Adams in fact, wrote home to his wife Abigail that “ the date of July 2nd (he turned out to be off by two days) will be celebrated ages and ages hence with rockets and illuminations and parades and parties”. During the following six weeks as 56 patriots added their signatures to the document of freedom from the tyranny of England and King George III, the document became more than just a well written treatise on the rights of mankind, but a daring manifesto, one that put all 56 of those men in dire danger, so much so that British officers were offered bounties for capture of any of those signers. They were literally risking their lives and properties so that all people of America, then and now could enjoy the amazing freedoms that we have. The 4th of July has come to symbolize those freedoms and the celebration of Americans past and present who have sacrificed their lives to maintain that freedom. In an amazing irony, both John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, our second and third presidents died on July 4, 1826, exactly 50 years after that first July 4th. To add to the mystique of that day, James Monroe, our fifth president who fought in the Revolution as an aide to George Washington, also died on July4th, in the year 1831. James Madison, our fourth president, who co-authored the other great document of our country, the Constitution, died on June 28th 1836. Doctors and family members asked Madison if he wished treatment to prolong his life to the July 4th holiday, but he refused. Still, the little twist of history that three of our first five presidents died on the very day we celebrate gives me a chill and fascinates me. In reflecting on the years of conflict and the heroes that have preserved our rights and freedoms as citizens, I ran across a great resource in the July 2012 Military History Magazine. In that issue, the last surviving veteran of each of our nations conflicts was listed. Here for your perusal is that list of American heroes The last surviving Revolutionary War veteran was a man named Lemuel Cook, who enlisted at age 16 with the 2nd Continental Light Dragoons just before the Battle of Brandywine. He was present with Washington’s army at the war’s concluding battle at Yorktown, Virginia in October of 1781. Cook died in May 1866 at the age of 106. The War of 1812 was a short war, but one that tested the mettle of the new republic. America survived the burning of its new capitol as well as the president’s home and during the Battle of Fort McHenry saw the flag survive a two day onslaught by the British Navy. It provided us with the Star Spangled Banner, a poem written by Francis Scott Key during that battle and provided us with a new American hero in the person of Andrew Jackson, who won the Battle of New Orleans two months after the peace treaty at Ghent was already signed. (news travelled slow in those days!) The last surviving veteran of this war was Hiram Cronk, who enlisted in 1814 at age 14 along with his father and two brothers and served with the New York volunteers. He died in May 1905 at the age of 105. Just about everyone knows about the Civil War, but fewer know about the battle with Mexico that the U.S. fought during the 1840‘s. Skirmishes between Mexico and the U.S. actually began in the 1830‘s with the annexation of Texas and the Alamo. As the United States stretched its southwest borders, war with Mexico was declared by President James K Polk. Future opposing generals Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant fought together against the Mexican army, eventually marching all the way to Mexico City in 1848. The last surviving veteran of the War with Mexico was Owen Thomas Edgar. He served in the U.S. Navy as an apprentice 2nd class starting on February 10,1846. He served aboard the frigates Allegheny, Pennsylvania, Potomac and Experience. He died in September 1929 at the age of 98. The Civil War pitted our still young country against itself. Its origins are too complex to try to cover in such a short blog, but in addition to the slave versus free state issues, questions began to arise about states rights versus the central governments right to govern. Only a president such as Abraham Lincoln who understood the importance of maintaining the Union at all costs, could have brought the ship of state safely to port in April of 1865. Lincoln, seeing the war through to its end, only lived a week after Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Courthouse, Virginia. Many young men enlisted at ages as young as 10 in both the Northern Army and the Confederate Army. The last survivor of the Civil War has been disputed and claimed by several families because of the lack of completely accurate records, however the last undisputed veteran was Albert Henry Woodson, who enlisted as a drummer boy at age 16 for Company C, 1st Minnesota Heavy Artillery Regiment on October 10, 1864. He passed away in August 1956 at the age of 108. With the new century came a different type of warfare. When much of the European world became involved in war in 1914, America tried with limited success of staying neutral. Eventually, our involvement was inevitable and in 1917, President Woodrow Wilson asked Congress for a declaration of war. Although the United States was only involved in World War I for approximately 18 months, casualties were heavy and due to the new weaponry available, mass casualties and heavy fighting became the new normal. On November 11, 1918 an armistice was declared and fighting ended. We celebrate that day now as veterans day and as with Flag Day, Memorial Day and the 4th July, we turn our thoughts to those who fought so bravely. The last surviving U.S. veteran of World War I was ambulance and motorcycle driver Frank Buckles, who passed away in February 2011 at the age of 110. What the world didn’t learn in the aftermath of World War I was how to maintain a lasting peace. Within 21 years of Armistice Day in 1918, troubles were brewing overseas... dictators in Germany and Italy were seeking more and more territory and finding small countries to overrun was not a major dilemma for them. As in World War I, the U.S. tried to stay out of the conflict, but by now we were too much of a world power to be able to quietly go about our business. After the tragic and surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the U.S. declared war on Japan and in short turn on Germany and Italy. We sent unprecedented numbers of men and women overseas to fight and had unprecedented losses. As I have written in my previous blog about the Pearl Harbor attack, it was the day America lost its innocence. Although there are still many World War II veterans alive, Military History magazine estimates that veterans of that war are dying off at a rate of 740 per day!! It is imperative, therefore, if you have the opportunity, to thank a veteran of the World War while you can. As Tom Brokaw wrote, the were truly the “Greatest Generation”. In addition to the duty I believe we have as Americans to thank and acknowledge our veterans from World War II, I think it is equally important to do the same to salute and thank our men and women from the Korean Conflict, the Vietnam War and our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Heroism is not dead, it is being lived everyday by men and women far from our safe, free and independent shores. On days like July 4th ( and the other 364 days) we have an obligation, a duty to appreciate, to reflect and to support. The freedom they protect is yours.

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