Monday, will be the Fourth of July. It is more than just a day off from work. As our nation prepares to celebrate the 235th anniversary of a declared freedom, I reach back to my days as a teenager growing up. When one is raised in a small town, as I was, the celebration seems to take on a flavor that is somewhat different in the large cities. I do not mean to imply that cities do not have great celebrations; it is just that in small towns, everyone seems to know everyone and it is like a family gathering. That is what it was like in my youth. With the picnics, watermelons and fireworks, the fun in the sun, no worries, no problems, the times were much simpler. And the truths of our republic were much in evidence.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness….”
I recall having to memorize these words by my civics teacher, Mr. Craddock. He said that it was necessary to know what they mean and memorizing those words was monumental because it would stay with me for the rest of my life. Not being one who could memorize easily, I did not stand up to the task. Very soon thereafter, my grades reflected that. I finally received the necessary motivation to be able to stand in front of the class and recite those words. I thought long and hard about “certain unalienable rights” and “the pursuit of happiness”. I concluded at that time, that it did not work for me. In 1955, teenagers were not allowed to pursue happiness. Unalienable rights? I wasn’t sure what that meant, but I was convinced I had none.
The year, 1956, brought me to the beaches of California. However, I was not there to enjoy the sand and surf. The U.S. Naval Recruit Training Center was located in San Diego. Encouraged by my recitation of “the pursuit of happiness” and at the ripe old age of seventeen fresh out of high school, I enlisted in the U.S. Navy. Little did I know that my “pursuit” would be curtailed for the next nine weeks.
The Navy recognizes the Declaration of Independence and adheres to the principles as set forth in the U.S. Constitution. All personnel are likewise a party to that defense. However, Chief Petty Officer Amadei, my boot camp instructor, had his own “declaration of independence” and it did not include any such language. Well, it did include “certain language” that I shall not repeat here. It may be a little too salty.
Ask any sailor and he will tell you, that, “geedunk stand”, is the place on base where you can purchase ice cream, candy, potato chips and other assorted snacks. Chief Amadei was a sucker for strawberry shortcake. I recall, if one could afford to buy strawberry shortcake for Chief Amadei at the “geedunk” stand, then one could be a little “independent”, at least for that day. Physical exercise was exhausting. Bribery was evident. Chief Amadei had freedom of choice and he chose wisely.
My experiences in the Navy took me to Japan, China, Philippines, Guam, Wake Island, and at that time, Hawaii, a territory of the United States. Over the course of four years, my interpretation of freedom took on a new stance. Though the U.S. military is structured and deliberately so, I observed the freedoms that I have, compared with those in the countries I visited. And visiting the USS Arizona Memorial, I saw first hand, solemnly, what freedom costs. Thomas Paine said, “Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom, must, like men, undergo the fatigues of supporting it”.
With all the truths being self-evident, I can tell you that as the years have progressed, my definition of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness has also progressed. Each passing year brings new evidence of our freedoms. I need only to observe the tributes for the fallen heroes who once stood up for those principles, to know what they mean.
Mr. Craddock had it right. In the fall of 1955, I stood before the class and recited those words even though I stumbled through them. I may not have got every word in the right place, but today, I realize the true meaning of those words. They have stayed with me. I feel a sense of accomplishment.The last paragraph of the Declaration of Independence” contains these words.
“And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.” July 4, 1776, fifty-six men agreed to this pledge and signed their names. They did not take these words lightly. Nor should we!
John Adams wrote a letter to his wife on July 3, 1776. He spoke of the decision of the Continental Congress on the previous day, to declare the 13 American colonies “Free and Independent States.”He said,
“The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.”
Ours is the greatest nation on the face of the earth, warts and all. And if you do not agree, well, you have the freedom to express that choice. Aren’t you the least bit thankful?
Celebrate it. Have a great (and safe) Fourth of July