It's hard not to get in the July 4th spirit when you gather around the grill with family and friends, sing aloud to the national anthem, or stare in childlike wonder at fireworks exploding in the night sky. The patriotic feeling of the holiday takes on new meaning when you consider the trials and struggles our nation faced in its early days.
Think of George Washington and his army during the most difficult of winters at Valley Forge, or the thousands who fell in a matter of hours at Gettysburg. Remember the men who raised the flag at Iwo Jima.
There were many times in our young nation's history when it appeared all might be lost and that our democracy might come to a tragic end. Time after time, by miracles large and small, the winds and tides would change in our favor.
That is the story of Francis Scott Key's famous "rockets' red glare." When Key penned the lines of what is now our national anthem, times were bleak: we were in the middle of the War of 1812, once known as the "Second War of Independence." After seizing Washington and setting fire to the Capitol and the White House, the British turned toward Baltimore. Fort McHenry was the only thing that stood between the invading force and the city. Those "bombs bursting in air" lasted more than 24 straight hours as Key looked on from the British ship on which he was imprisoned. Yet on the morning of September 14, 1814, Key saw "that our flag was still there".
Some will call that luck. Some will say those soldiers were just plain tough. Early Americans called it "the grace of God."
Divine intervention didn't end in 1814. Just a few decades after the War of 1812, our nation endured one of the toughest trials yet when brother turned against brother in the Civil War. From that time to the conflicts of today, the chapters of history reveal more providential stories than we could ever tell. Stories of great men and women that kept our nation together; stories on and off the battlefield. I've certainly heard my share from fellow Marines and Guardsmen of today.
American exceptionalism exists because of those who first recognized we need God's blessing on America. It is alive and well today, thanks to those who have had the courage to stand up for their convictions and continue the fight for freedom and liberty.
This Independence Day, enjoy your watermelon, hotdogs and hamburgers. Enjoy time spent with family and friends. Thank those who have sacrificed all for the very freedoms we enjoy today.
And when it seems those freedoms are coming under attack, do your part to ensure American exceptionalism remains alive and well. We may not fight with the musket and the blade, but we must have the courage to stand for what is right. We must continue to ask that "God Bless America."