Several folks have told me they liked some of the columns where I blended retrospective events with a current topic. I wrote three columns about the topic of leadership and used historical stories and events from the Civil War era to emphasis specific points.
My theme and topic in this column is patriotism and the love of freedom displayed by our forefathers and, more so, the price of that freedom paid by those early patriots. I fear that today, as Americans, we “… doth protest too much” about what we pay and are owed. Each day, more and more people are not willing to pay a price, any price, for the freedoms and opportunities that we have. Often, Americans are more concerned about what is owed them than the price that has to be paid.
I am currently reading the third in a series of historical fiction books penned by former Speaker of the House of Representatives Newt Gingrich and William R. Forstchen. This final book in the trilogy, “Victory at Yorktown,” recounts Gen. George Washington’s audacious actions in the late summer and early fall of 1781 to win our nation’s war for independence. Granted, this book is fictional; yet Gingrich and Forstchen are well-known for presenting historical facts in the back and foregrounds of their work.
We all know the outcome of Washington’s, and a rag-tag Army of patriots’, actions — they won our independence from the British. However, many of us have lost sight of the price those patriots paid. Also, often lost to history are the friends who helped make that independence possible.
In Gingrich’s and Forstchen’s dedication of the book, they remind us of “our all but forgotten allies, the French troops and sailors who ensured our victory at Yorktown.”
“In a world where, at times, friendships of old can be forgotten, we should always honor the memory of the aid France gave us in our struggle for liberty, and in turn, the sacrifice we offered back in the great struggles for freedom in the 20th century.”
Since the Revolutionary War, in all contests on the global stage, the French have been our friends. France gave much, as our friend, for our freedom and did not collect what we owed them for more than 100 years.
Forgotten also are the civilian friends of the Revolution, some never having worn a uniform — friends such as Robert Morris. In the concluding three months leading up to the Battle of Yorktown, Morris mortgaged his personal fortune twice to pay the continental soldiers (those same soldiers had not been paid for many months in coin or script that had any real value).
Upon realizing that he had pledged 100 percent of his personal assets as collateral for an earlier debt to pay for military supplies and equipment; before he pledged them a second time, Morris mused “they can only throw me in debtors’ prison once.” Like every signer of the Declaration of Independence, Morris had staked his life and sacred honor upon the cause of freedom. Morris and many other “civilians” literally gave much, were owed much, but collected little in return for financing a war to preserve our present-day opportunities.
And lastly, Washington and his Army; all gave some and some gave all. That’s not trite; tens of thousands were killed, wounded or just missing. At the same time, all gave some, officers and private soldiers alike prosecuted a war, for our freedom, with little (if any) pay, meager rations, no shoes or suitable clothing, limited or non-existent shelter. Yet they stood in firing lines, manned artillery and rode horses into battle to defeat the greatest military power (at that time) in the world — giving us today the freedoms and opportunities we often take for granted. In the end, few collected anywhere near what they were owed.
Our nation is founded on a premise that through freedom all have opportunities. Our freedom has been bought and paid for because some gave all. However, today only some pay for all of our opportunities, while others just feel they are owed. This holiday season, pray for those who gave all, and those who give some; but pray harder that, one day, all will give some.
Art Callaham is a community activist and president of the Washington County Free Library Board of Trustees.