Everyone loves a birthday. Birthdays are celebrations of life, when we take time to honor someone important to us, someone who has made an impact on their family and friends.
One of the greatest birthdays we as Americans can ever celebrate is the birth of our country itself. When a group of our Founding Fathers signed the Declaration of Independence, they started a new way of life separate from British rule. They transformed those 13 colonies into the United States of America. And they began down a path that would lead to the most powerful, influential nation on the planet.
America turns 241 this year. On the Fourth of July, we honor our country through a variety of celebrations. John Adams, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, foresaw this in writing to his wife about the country’s birthday:
“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.”
We certainly do a good job of continuing this spirit of celebration as a nation. Americans will host thousands of parades and events this year, along with fireworks displays and community cookouts. Indeed, there is much reason to celebrate as we enjoy living in this land of freedom.
I’d like to take a moment, however, to reflect on another sentence from that same letter from John Adams:
“I am well aware of the toil and blood and treasure that it will cost us to maintain this Declaration, and support and defend these States.”
Adams understood that freedom came with a price. Looking ahead, he knew that, to preserve our freedom, our citizens would be called on again and again to make great sacrifices — the same sacrifices it took to gain our freedom in the first place.
I was reminded of these sacrifices while visiting Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial in Normandy, France. The men that bravely hit the beaches on June 6, 1944, D-Day, are laid to rest in a place of honor. My father-in-law, Cecil Godwin, was one of the fortunate soldiers to survive D-Day but witnessed the sacrifices first hand.
Standing at the German concentration camp in Dachau, I was struck with a sense of just how quickly freedom can be lost. That country’s government stripped away the freedoms of many of its citizens, as well as of countless others, and it took a world war to bring an end to the tyranny.
Adams was right. Maintaining our freedom has come with great struggle, great sacrifice and great cost. But read what he wrote next:
“Yet through all the gloom I can see the rays of ravishing light and glory. I can see that the end is more than worth all the means.”
This Fourth of July, as we enjoy the parades and fireworks — and maybe some hamburgers on the grill or a plate of barbecue — let’s say “Happy Birthday America!” by remembering the struggles it took to form this nation and the sacrifices countless people have made to maintain the freedoms we enjoy today. We have something special, so let’s celebrate!