The week before the fourth of July I was in Philadelphia for a meeting with David Waltz, executive director of our partner state convention, Pennsylvania/South Jersey. Our time together was a productive experience. David is giving superb leadership to this relatively new convention. He has a servant’s heart, and I value our friendship.
Following the meeting time, Bobby DuBois and I took a quick tour of the historic downtown area where the founding of our nation took place. The grand experiment of democracy in this country came to the forefront in these hallowed halls of history. As we walked, we could hear the voices of reenactors of such famous people as Benjamin Franklin tell the story of how freedom was birthed in America.
On our way home, we crowded into a plane filled to capacity with holiday travelers trying to get to their destinations in time to celebrate the fourth. The flight to Atlanta was delayed for a relatively brief period of time due to the challenges of servicing so many people.
Before we boarded I had noticed a Marine in full dress uniform, standing erect and poised for a ceremonial duty. When we landed, a flight attendant politely asked us to remain seated for a few minutes to allow this Marine sergeant to deplane and to escort the flag-draped coffin of a fallen comrade. With the exception of one man, everyone remain seated. I could not determine whether the man stood in defiance or for some other reason. However, for a few minutes an airplane loaded to capacity with travelers expressed their gratitude for the sacrifice made by this Marine heading home to his earthly resting place.
As I sat in my seat watching the smartly dressed young Marine deplane to attend to his duties formally escorting one of his own, my mind went back to the streets of Philadelphia. I could hear the voices of the Founding Fathers declare their allegiance to the cause of freedom, and I uttered a brief prayer of thanksgiving for the sacrifices made so we could live freely and worry about being on time for the commitments for the fourth of July. The fourth of July took on new meaning for me in those moments of reflection.
All of a sudden my concern about time simply evaporated. I thought about the grief-stricken family awaiting the remains of their loved one. I pictured thousands of young military personnel far away from home in harm’s way, and I felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude for those who have served in the military, past and present, from Valley Forge to Baghdad. To these heroes I say thanks for giving us a free country. As Benjamin Franklin famously said, “We have given you a republic, if you can keep it.”