Happy Fourth of July! It's my distinct pleasure to be in Big Sandy.
I'm not saying anything bad about Austin, you understand, but as someone born and raised in a small town, sometimes it's nice to get away to a place where you can breathe a little.
I'm also happy to be a part of your efforts to raise money to fund scholarships for the kids of Big Sandy.
There's no better way to spend a holiday, and this truly is a special holiday for people across our great nation.
These are the days we remember, as we reconnect with people we haven't seen in a while and find out how much that niece or nephew has sprung up over the last few months.
Of course, any opportunity to gather with family and friends, whether it's for waffles in the morning or maybe for something off the grill later in the afternoon is a special opportunity.
For me, though, Independence Day has always had a unique meaning, even beyond the warmth we enjoy in the company of loved ones.
Today, we remember and celebrate the wisdom and the courage of our founding fathers who faced adversity and created a new nation, the greatest nation.
It's important to remember this was a group of individuals from wildly different backgrounds, holding divergent viewpoints with very different ideas about how to do things.
Despite these differences, on July 4, 1776, they came together in Philadelphia and presented a united front to the King of England, the most powerful man in their world.
They were farmers, merchants and jurists, and had gathered in Pennsylvania to represent the people back home, in Rhode Island, Georgia and Virginia.
These were Americans who had grown tired of being victimized and intimidated by the crown and had dreams of living their lives in freedom and liberty.
Together, they stood as one and declared to King George that they were independent and free, free from his rule and free from his tyranny forever.
Sometimes it's hard to understand just what an act of courage that was.
We all have the benefit of hindsight, but when they put pen to paper that summer day 236 years ago today, they were risking everything they had, everything they were to earn their freedom.
We were many hard-fought years from victory, and they knew they'd be brought up on treason charges if the Revolution failed.
Yet they put their names and their lives on the line.
Such was their belief in freedom and their belief in liberty and democracy.
Another revolutionary of that time, Patrick Henry, perhaps summed up their attitude best more than a year earlier with a simple, and now eternal phrase: Give me liberty or give me death.
Those weren't just words in 1776, either, death was a real possibility.
By standing up to tyranny, they all set the example we've followed in the years since, none more so than the members of our military.
Like our founding fathers, the brave men and women of the United States Armed Forces have time and again demonstrated a commitment to the ideals written in the Declaration of Independence.
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.
From Valley Forge to the Battle of New Orleans, from the trenches of World War I to the Battles of Fallujah, our nation's best and brightest have answered the call to defend freedom, and the American way, against all threats.
If there are any veterans here with us today, I hope you will raise your hand and let us know, so we can honor you with our applause and cheers. God bless you all.
I would go so far as to say that there is no higher form of public service than wearing the uniform of one's country.
If you came of age during the Vietnam War, like I did, you probably remember a time when many members of our generation believed the opposite and made sure everyone knew it, including our military.
Fortunately, America has turned the corner on how we treat the members of our armed forces and does a much better job showing them the respect they deserve for their willingness to risk their lives in our defense and to set others free.
Today, we understand that it was only thanks to our veterans' valiant efforts that the "Great Experiment" that is the United States has succeeded for more than two centuries.
We've proven it can be done.
We've survived to inspire others, and spread the principles that have made our republic the greatest nation on earth.
Today, people from around the world look to the United States as a bastion of liberty, a nation where everyone has a chance to build their dreams.
It's a nation where anyone, regardless of background, can go as far as their desire and determination can take them from innovative idea to marketplace leader or from the mailroom to the CEO's office.
There's a reason people around the globe know what you mean when you say "The American Dream."
Our nation has endured because our people are good, our principles are sound, and our purpose is unchanged.
As Americans, it's our responsibility to remain dedicated to those principles, those values, that have made our country great in the good times, and the bad.
We are all blessed by being Americans, whether by birth or naturalization, but with those blessings comes responsibility.
We owe it to those who follow us, our children and our grandchildren and great-grandchildren to leave behind an America that's not only as strong and moral and the one we found, but stronger, in all facets.
We owe it to them to keep America on the path of faith and morality that has served our nation so well for so long.
To paraphrase the great Irving Berlin, even in the dark of night, we have to call upon our Creator to walk beside us and guide us with light from above.
From the mountains, to the prairies, to the oceans, white with foam, God bless America, my home sweet home.
May God bless you and, through you, may He continue to bless the great state of Texas and this nation we love so much.