Each year on the Fourth of July, we should remember to celebrate not just our independence, but also the selfless patriots who secured the liberties we still enjoy.
In 1776, our Founding Fathers declared the 13 colonies independent of Britain, setting in motion the events that would lead to the birth of the United States of America as a free and sovereign nation.
The American Revolutionary War, which had started in earnest the previous year, was fought for eight years by local militias comprised of citizen-soldiers – farmers, tradesmen, clerks and others. These individuals from all walks of life took on and defeated the world’s most powerful standing army.
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In the years since, millions of additional patriots have stepped forward to answer the call to duty. And today, our all-volunteer military – comprised of less than 1 percent of our country’s population – has been engaged in the longest war in our nation’s history.
Service men and women are fighting for us in a war that began before many of them were born. They volunteered because of their love for and devotion to this country. They enlisted knowing that they could end up in harm’s way.
They also recognized, and they continue to understand – as we all ought to – that America is not like some machine that simply continues in motion once it is started without further effort. We are part of an evolving project, the most exciting in human history. Without those in the armed forces who serve something greater than themselves, it would quickly come to an abrupt end.
One such patriot is Army Staff Sgt. David Bellavia. He was recently awarded the Medal of Honor, becoming the first living Iraq War veteran to receive our nation’s highest military award.
Bellavia risked his life while engaging multiple insurgents and allowing every member of his squad to survive. Bellavia displayed extraordinary courage and exemplifies the legacy of American valor.
Another American patriot is Marine Maj. Brian Chontosh, who was awarded the Navy Cross after his heroic actions during the 2003 invasion of Iraq, when his convoy was ambushed and he was credited with eliminating more than 20 enemy combatants.
Even after receiving the Navy’s highest honor, he still returned to the battlefield in Iraq to participate in the second invasion of Fallujah. His company was the focus of a Fox News documentary titled “Breaking Point: Company of Heroes,” which I encourage all to watch.
Bellavia and Chontosh are remarkable examples of the many brave men and women who continue to risk their lives in defense of freedom and the American way of life. They are true patriots and heroes who will inspire Americans.
As a Gold Star father, I travel the country sharing the story of my son, Marine 1st Lt. Travis Manion, who was killed in Iraq in 2007 while drawing fire away from his wounded teammates. I also share stories of other incredible individuals who put other people’s interests before their own.
We live in a time of unprecedented domestic division – one filled with protests, partisanship and occasional violence. Fortunately, we still have incredible models for emulation of the patriotism and selfless service that united our country 243 years ago.
We are Americans first, and it is our national character that makes us the envy of the world. Despite our differences, we stand up for one another. We take action when we see something wrong. And we truly unite during times of greatest need.
This Independence Day, I encourage all Americans to reflect on the struggles we’ve overcome as a nation as well as on the patriots who have sacrificed so much since 1776 to guarantee our freedom and make this the greatest country in the world.
To do that, each one of us must take it upon ourselves to learn and share the stories of the men and women who have donned the uniform. That is our duty. And while it’s perhaps the least we can do, it’s an essential duty with an impact that will echo through the generations.