Sunday, July 15, 2012

The Spirit of Independence

A guest post by COL (Ret.) Charles D. Allen.

I had expected a traditional 4th of July holiday with the trappings of local and national celebrations, fireworks, and displays of patriotism coupled with family events.  For many of us, the mid-week holiday extended the observance to the following weekend.
I took the opportunity to visit Mom and siblings in Cleveland and, as is my habit, I picked up an audiobook CD for the 600-mile roundtrip.  The selection this time was David Hackett Fischer’s award-winning Washington’s Crossing.  The book captured my attention so much that I drove straight through to my mother’s house.  The next two days were spent checking in with my mom and her cousin (among the last of that generation), watching my brother grill and spend time with his grandkids, and sharing late-night reminisces with my sisters. After a hearty Sunday breakfast (prepared by my brother), I hit the road having counted the weekend an American success.

I inserted the next CD and continued to listen to Fischer’s remarkable work.  The next chapter of the book recounted the attitudes and reactions of American colonials in New Jersey in the face of the occupation by British and Hessian troops. I then remembered seeing signs for Shanksville/Somerset PA on my outbound trip and felt compelled to visit the Flight 93 Memorial on the way home.  A quick check of the GPS gave directions and time to the site, so I departed from my normal route on the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

The park entrance is 3-1/2 miles from the Memorial Plaza and the road winds slowly to the impact site. From the parking lot, the quarter-mile walk begins with display boards that detail the events of the morning of September 11, 2001.  Most haunting are the faces on the placard, “The Crew and Passengers of Flight 93.” At the end of the walk are 40 marble panels inscribed with each name and the existence of an unborn child.

As I looked around the unfinished memorial and its landscape, it was clear that the unremarkable countryside belied the remarkable feat accomplished by the passengers who boarded the plane in Newark, New Jersey. Among the names on the display and marble panels were those of Jeremy Glick, Tom Burnett and Todd Beamer who assumed leadership roles on the plane when the threat to the nation became clear. Tom on the phone told his wife, Deena, “We can’t wait…we’re going to do something.” Voice recordings captured the memorable words of Todd, who was about to lead the group: “Are you ready? Okay. Let’s roll!”
It is striking how this band of civilians embodied the same spirit of the New Jersey colonists in 1776. That spirit is captured in the third verse of “America the Beautiful”:

O beautiful for heroes proved in liberating strife.
Who more than self their country loved and mercy more than life! 

This is important to remember each Independence Day—that our citizens are true heroes whom those in uniform have the honor to serve.