I salute…the editor of a colonial newspaper who shut down his paper rather than pay the Stamp Act tax of 1765; his last edition proclaimed liberty as “the greatest blessing human beings can enjoy”and taxation without representation as being “fettered with the chains of inimical servitude.”
I salute…the men and women who rose up in revolution a decade later to break those chains, sacrificing blood and treasure in a relentless fight for freedom; our true national debt begins with what we owe those founders of our freedom.
I salute…the boldness of Jefferson’s declaration that we are “endowed by (our) creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”—and our progress in ensuring that those rights are equally enjoyed by all of our citizens.
I salute…our resolve to reunify this nation after a sadly divisive Civil War and to heed Lincoln’s call, in honoring the war dead at Gettysburg, for us, the living, to also be dedicated to ensuring “that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the face of the earth.”
I salute…those who rose up to repel the next great set of challenges to our freedom from fascism, Nazism, and communism in the next century—enduring gas warfare in the trenches of WW I, landing at Normandy in the face of withering enemy fire in WW II, fighting the forgotten war of Korea, and both surviving and succumbing to jungle heat, enemy fire, Agent Orange, and hellish prisons in Viet Nam.
I salute…those who’ve voluntarily traded the comforts of home for faraway service in Iraq and Afghanistan, some never to return, some returning to be buried here, some returning with tortured minds, broken marriages, and lost limbs.
I salute…those on the home front through all these periods of warfare who held families and communities together, who went to work every day at factories, who wrote letters to their loved ones overseas, who served on school boards and cared for the sick in hospitals and did what sometimes no one else could do, doing for others what they could not do for themselves.
I salute…the pursuit of peace in a war-torn world where justice is seldom meted out in equal portions and where evil ideologies inspire a savage brutality that the wise, brave, and lovers of freedom must unite to fight and defeat.
I salute…the incredible courage, dignity, and humanity of the members of Charleston’s Emanuel AME Church in turning an evil and hateful act into an example of love and forgiveness that has inspired an entire nation and given a glimmer of hope to the whole world.
But most of all, I salute…and pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty, and justice for all…as we observe and celebrate the birth of our nation. May we live up to its ideals.
James F. Burns is a professor emeritus at the University of Florida.