Final assignment for veterans: grand marshals

Published 12:00 am Monday, July 2, 2001

Although Independence Day – Wednesday – is not specifically a military holiday, I find it altogether appropriate that military veterans are to be honored as grand marshals of Austin’s parade this year.

Monday, July 02, 2001

Although Independence Day – Wednesday – is not specifically a military holiday, I find it altogether appropriate that military veterans are to be honored as grand marshals of Austin’s parade this year. There would not be a United States of America and this nation would not have remained free and independent were it not for the service and sacrifices of our military veterans.

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I much prefer to keep our national holidays discrete and sharply focused on the specific event designated. Memorial Day remembers the war dead. Armed Forces Day comes in June to thank those currently serving in both the active and reserve components. Veterans Day, originally Armistice Day, is the particular occasion to honor all veterans of all periods. Additionally, each service has its annual birthday observance, and even branches within them recall their origins on the appropriate dates. There are military observances enough.

Nonetheless, July Fourth is Independence Day. I have enjoyed asking school children: "Does Britain have a fourth of July?" Answer: Yes, it comes each year the day following the 3d and prior to the 5th. It is not there, of course, called Independence Day and nothing at all is observed that day in Britain. It is, rather, the day our founding fathers declared our political and governmental independence of Britain. This we remember and this we must.

To declare us independent and even to put it in writing is one thing, but accomplishing independence is substantially another thing – and to protect it. As morally right and socially courageous as were members of the Continental Congress, they utterly lacked political power to accomplish what they declared. King George had a large army contingent permanently stationed in his American colony, and his Royal Navy guarded our harbors and patrolled our coast. They posted themselves to keep the Union Jack flying on flag staffs throughout the land and from the masts of all ships with British registry despite home ports in America.

Congress raised a Continental Army and chose George Washington as its general. The Navy and its corps of marines followed. They engaged the British forces in combat on land and sea. Thousands sacrificed their lives and never saw the nation they freed and we enjoy.

We fought the British again in 1812, and in the middle of that century we fought each other. The Union Army and Navy fought to keep our nation together, and even the Confederates made a strange contribution to the maturing of this country. It pleases the united states to honor them as well. The Spanish-American War showed a new world power struggling to exercise that power responsibly.

Germany would have conquered all of Europe early in the last century, which would have threatened this country’s ability to function as an independent nation. But we joined allies and stopped the aggression in that world war. We had hoped it would be the war to end all wars, but we won the war without the peace. We crossed the Atlantic again not many years later and extended into the Pacific to fight yet another world war that, surely, could have destroyed our independence. This time we made friends of our enemies. With our independence secure, we have since several times deployed our armed forces to protect the independence of weaker nations. We continue to bear this international burden, and it has been a long time since at least some of our troops have not been in harm’s way.

I feel it might be somewhat thoughtless to honor but "veterans of all wars," because those who serve in peace time also deserve honor. After all, the prevention of war by military presence is better than winning a war by fighting.

This is not to say that American independence is entirely the result of military action. We have more to thank than the veterans who will march on Wednesday. It is not to ignore the crucial success both of foreign statesmanship and domestic leadership. If civilians had not implemented what the military won, those victories would have been pointless. On the other hand, veterans provide much of the leadership in civilian affairs, and it is rather much what they learned while in the armed forces that provided the conviction and motivation. Not only George Washington, U.S. Grant, and Dwight Eisenhower, but a great number of our presidents have been veterans.

Next year, let us return to the broader ceremonial observance of the accomplishment and sustaining of American independence. On Wednesday, however, let us take our hats off to those who wore helmets so we could have an Independence Day parade.

Wallace Alcorn’s column appears Mondays.