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Chris Harnisch: The Story of Self-Sacrifice

Saturday, July 3rd, 2010

My brother and I went to a baseball game the other night, and watched a show of patriotism that occurs nightly at ballparks across America. Between innings, probably about halfway through the game, Lee Greenwood’s song “Proud to Be an American” came on the loudspeakers, and the big screen focused on about a dozen men and women with military haircuts sitting behind home plate in front of a sign paying tribute to our troops. Nearly every person in the stadium rose to their feet and gave our heroes an extended standing ovation.

I had goosebumps as I clapped, and thought about how blessed we are to live in a land where people from every walk of life volunteer to sacrifice their lives for the freedom of others. The men and women fighting our wars today come from rural Alaska, Harlem, and everywhere in between. They are white, black, Latino, and Asian, and belong to every religious denomination. Some had ancestors arrive on the Mayflower, and many are immigrants. Some come from rich families, and some come from poor. But every single one of them has made the decision to put country and freedom above self.

The remarkable story of our men and women in uniform mirrors that of 56 visionaries who met in Philadelphia 234 years ago today and made the courageous decision to establish a nation based upon freedom and equality for all.  Americans affectionately refer to this disparate group of visionaries as our Founding Fathers. The Founding Fathers worked as physicians, ministers, farmers, lawyers, and musicians. Some traveled to Philadelphia from rural Georgia, and others came from the vibrant city of Boston. Most were born in the colonies, but eight lived their earliest years across the Atlantic. They worshiped in Catholic, Anglican, and Quaker churches, and several elected not to worship at all. The youngest went to Philadelphia at age 26, and the oldest at 70.

The Founding Fathers cast aside self-interest and rejected the temptation of creating 13 different countries or a system of governance that would have left them in permanent positions of power. Instead, they decided that the consent of the people would govern the new nation, which should secure the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Such a nation would only succeed, they determined, if it remained unified. In support of this decision, they pledged “to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor”—the last words of the Declaration of Independence.

From its very founding, the story of America has been the story of citizens sacrificing for the cause of freedom and fellow man. Patriots from every generation have stepped forward and made selfless contributions for the advancement of our nation and the ideals it was founded upon. This American spirit of self-sacrifice allowed our nation to expand westward during the frontier, rebuild after 618,000 Americans died in a war between the states, and continuously defeat tyranny and liberate the oppressed around the world. Today, roughly 2.3 million Americans serve in some capacity in the armed services, nearly 8,000 Americans serve as Peace Corps Volunteers in 77 countries around the world, and more than 60 million Americans volunteer in their own communities. Countless others serve as police officers, firefighters, EMTs, and border patrol agents. All have made the decision to put their fellow man before themselves.

I vividly recollect my late grandfather, who flew B-24s in World War II, making a toast on July 4, 2004. He was 80 years old at the time, so it had been about 60 years since he completed his Army Air Corps basic training. He raised his glass that evening in honor of those in his basic training class who never made it home, recalling each man by name. The Americans in his generation stepped up when the world needed them, and more than 400,000 made the ultimate sacrifice for their fellow man and the cause of freedom. This Independence Day, let us all raise a glass in honor of the American spirit that has allowed this great nation to remain a glowing beacon of hope for liberty around the world.

U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Thomas Miller

Chris Harnisch is an analyst for the Critical Threats Project at AEI.