Monday, July 5, 2010

Images of Independence

Independence. The word conjures images of Thomas Jefferson and John Adams defending our declaration before the Continental Congress. Images of Washington and his weary soldiers huddled in Valley Forge, crossing the Delaware River, or receiving the surrender of Lord Cornwallis at Yorktown. Images of the Star Spangled Banner flying above Fort McHenry in defiance of the British fleet. Images of Confederate soldiers firing upon Fort Sumter, declaring that the government of the United States was infringing upon their rights as free and independent individuals.

If you add the word "Day" then we begin to see images of Will Smith punching aliens and giant spaceships threatening to destroy our most prominent cities.  Images of barbeques and swimming pools, families gathered together on a beautiful summer day. And of course, images of what John Adams described in 1776 as, "Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.”

I am in the midst of my fourteenth day of consecutive work and my fourth 12-14 hour day in a row. This has certainly been a busy and exhausting time for me! But it has also been a period filled with lasting images of the most noble and admirable qualities of man.

As I stood upon the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on Friday, the 147th anniversary of the battle of Gettysburg, telling the story of the fight for Little Roundtop as Joshua Chamberlain I was reminded of the importance of remembering such moments and telling such stories. There is something in the accounts of the sacrifice of others that gives new and greater meaning to the symbols under which we live. 

All of the images conjured by the word "Independence" are centered upon such symbols, symbols of what it means to live in a nation founded upon the principles of freedom, equality, and liberty. There is no day when such symbols bear more import than on July the 4th, a day commemorating the birth of a new nation, a nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. 

Yesterday I not only celebrated our independence, but helped enrich the experience of others in that same endeavor. Along with five other rangers I presented a vignette on the stars and stripes and what their image has meant and symbolized throughout this nation's history. A transcript of what we spoke as well as several pictures of me on stage are attached to this email. 

I played the part of a Civil War soldier, dressed in uniform, and telling the story of Sergeant William Carney, who carried his nation's banner to the ramparts of Battery Wagner and back, despite being shot four times in the attack. 

When I took the stage I stood facing a crowd of 20,000 spread before me. As I discovered later, my voice carried far beyond those seated in front of me, reaching the area surrounding the grounds of the Washington Monument and beyond, as I addressed upwards of 200,000 people. All of these people had come here, to this place, the center of the capitol of our nation, to join with the 1 million + stretching throughout the national mall in celebration of the birth of this nation. I have born witness to fourth of July celebrations in numerous different locations in the past, but I have never seen something like what I witnessed yesterday. 

Following our presentation and some additional music, at precisely 9:10 pm the illuminations began. I stood within the restricted area of the circle of flags surrounding the Washington Monument, alongside several other rangers, looking out upon a sea of humanity to the reflecting pool beyond, watching as, for 17 minutes, the air was filled with music, the ground with the illuminated screens of cameras and the flashes as people took pictures, and the sky was filled with fireworks, in a truly memorable display, framed by the great icons of this nation.

Words cannot capture the emotion of such a moment. It made me proud indeed to represent this nation's flag as a protector and interpreter of the stories, resources, and ideals that it stands for, immemorial throughout the ages.

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