I wish I could spend this Fourth of July on Bunker Hill. From there you can see Breed’s Hill where most of the fighting actually took place back in 1775. It was the first sustained, pitched battle of the American Revolution. We lost that day. But we didn’t run. A group of rag tag New England colonist stood up to the best equipped and most feared army in the world at that time and didn’t blink. When the day was over the British occupied both hills. But they lost almost one-third of their fighting men in the taking. And the young American soldiers didn’t slink away. They retreated like an organized fighting unit.
Both sides learned a valuable lesson that day.
I’ve gotten so caught up in the comfort of my own living these days that I don’t dwell much on how I got here. In my near sighted egotistical mind, I probably think I did it with my own power and might.
The Continental Army was officially three days old when the fight for Bunker Hill took place. Those Bunker Hill defenders hadn’t had time to be sworn in. They were fighting for the most basic things on earth; freedom, liberty, independence….the right to make their own way!
I’ve enjoyed those attributes of this great nation all my life. I’ve done piddling little to obtain them.
Maybe if I could stand on that hill on this Independence Day I could catch a glimpse of the spirit of those men. I wonder about the thoughts racing through their heads as they dug in. I wonder how each individual “defender” came to be on that hill on that particular day. I wonder about their age. (The minimum age to enlist in the Continental Army was 16; 15 with parental consent.) I wonder if they were as afraid as I would have been when the Red Coats formed up below. I wonder if they had any inkling of the nation they were laying the foundation for when they raised those muskets to their shoulders. I do not wonder about their courage.
When I was 16 years old I was playing American Legion Baseball and dating Billie Jean Barham.
I would love this Fourth of July to stand silently over in one corner of Independence Hall in Philadelphia. I believe I could hear the 2nd Continental Congress as they convened there on May, 10, 1775. All thirteen colonies were represented. The small battles of Lexington and Concord had taken place. It was time to make amends with the British……or fight. Can you imagine among John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, John Hancock, Patrick Henry and Benjamin Franklin who listened to whom! It was about as impressive a list of founding fathers as any nation has ever put together under one roof.
And they didn’t do too badly in that room. They had the good sense to pick George Washington as the commanding General of the Army. An army, of course, which they didn’t exactly have at the moment. It was where the Declaration of Independence was born. “When in the course of human events…..” you talk about a great opening line. And how about, “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”. And after enumerating all the injustices heaped on them by King George and the Crown they closed brilliantly, “with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”
Man, if I could write like that, I’d be a millionaire!
Ben Franklin, off the record, put it a little more succinctly, “If we don’t all hang together, we’ll all hang separately.”
If I had a time machine, I’d warp back to Valley Forge this Fourth of July. Of course, I couldn’t catch the essence of the place in July. The snow would be gone. It would be 90 degrees instead of 10 below freezing. You wouldn’t have to scrounge up fire wood. If wouldn’t matter that you had no shoes.
It’s hard to imagine hunger on a full belly.
The winter of 1777-78 was brutal. Cold descended on the little valley like you ain’t never seen! Disease ran rampant in the camps. Life was worse than miserable. You have to ask yourself, “What could possibly cause a band of men in such conditions to hang on like they did.” And you might even consider what you might have done under like circumstances. Or you might pause and utter up a prayer of thanks for them on this Independence Day.
History well records what those men did. They got up off the cold ground, wrapped some rags around their bleeding feet and marched out to meet the enemy. They fought like the fate of a nation rested in their hands.
I wish this Fourth of July I could transport back to the little town square of my youth in McKenzie, Tennessee. I stood beside my ram rod straight Father as the flag passed by and waited impatiently until I could move again. He had his hand over his heart and tears in his eyes. I just wanted the parade “to get over with” so I could get to the barbeque and baked beans.
Dad understood those men at Bunker Hill. And at Valley Forge. He’d seen the fire from the enemy. He’d stood in the gap for this nation. I would love to tell him, “I’ve got it now, Dad.”
It’s high time we all did!