Independence Day celebrates the birth of our country, and the sacrifices of those who have fought to keep it free. The value we put on that freedom has been expressed in many ways thoughout our history. One striking example was described in a speech by Leo K. Thorsness, recipient of The Medal of Honor.
“You’ve probably seen the bumper sticker somewhere along the road. It depicts an American Flag, accompanied by the words “These colors don’t run.” I’m always glad to see this, because it reminds me of an incident from my confinement in North Vietnam at the Hao Lo POW Camp, or the “Hanoi Hilton,” as it became known. Then a Major in the U.S. Air Force, I had been captured and imprisoned from 1967-1973. Our treatment had been frequently brutal. After three years, however, the beatings and torture became less frequent. During the last year, we were allowed outside most days for a couple of minutes to bathe. We showered by drawing water from a concrete tank with a homemade bucket.
“One day as we all stood by the tank, stripped of our clothes, a young Naval pilot named Mike Christian found the remnants of a handkerchief in a gutter that ran under the prison wall. Mike managed to sneak the grimy rag into our cell and began fashioning it into a flag. Over time we all loaned him a little soap, and he spent days cleaning the material. We helped by scrounging and stealing bits and pieces of anything he could use. At night, under his mosquito net, Mike worked on the flag. He made red and blue from ground-up roof tiles and tiny amounts of ink and painted the colors onto the cloth with watery rice glue. Using thread from his own blanket and a homemade bamboo needle, he sewed on stars.
“Early in the morning a few days later, when the guards were not alert, he whispered loudly from the back of our cell, “Hey gang, look here.” He proudly held up this tattered piece of cloth, waving it as if in a breeze. If you used your imagination, you could tell it was supposed to be an American flag. When he raised that smudgy fabric, we automatically stood straight and saluted our chests puffing out, and more than a few eyes had tears.
“About once a week the guards would strip us, run us outside and go through our clothing. During one of those shakedowns, they found Mike’s flag. We all knew what would happen. That night they came for him. Night interrogations were always the worst. They opened the cell door and pulled Mike out. We could hear the beginning of the torture before they even had him in the torture cell. They beat him most of the night. About daylight they pushed what was left of him back through the cell door. He was badly broken; even his voice was gone. Within two weeks, despite the danger, Mike scrounged another piece of cloth and began another flag.
“The Stars and Stripes, our national symbol, was worth the sacrifice to him. Now, whenever I see the flag, I think of Mike and the morning he first waved that tattered emblem of a nation. It was then, thousands of miles from home in a lonely prison cell, that he showed us what it is to be truly free.”
Thanks to Vic Vickery for forwarding this excerpt.
From the “Adams Centinel” (Gettysburg, Penn.), 02 July 1823, page 3:
“Philadelphia, July 5, 1776
“Yesterday the greatest question was decided which was ever debated in America; and a greater, perhaps, never was or will be decided among men. A resolution was passed that without one dissenting colony, ‘that these United States are, and of right ought to be, free and independent states.’
“The day is passed–the 4th of July, 1776, will be a memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to Almighty God. It ought to be solemnized with pomp, shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of the continent to the other, from this time forward, forever! You will think me transported with enthusiasm; but I am not. I am well aware of the toil, and blood, and treasure that it will cost to maintain this declaration, and support and defend these states–yet through all the gloom, I can see that the end is worth more than all the means–and that posterity will triumph, although you and I may rue, which I hope we shall not. I am, &c. JOHN ADAMS”
A few sites worth visiting in commemoration of Independence Day are listed below.
- Declaring Independence: Drafting the Documents. This section of the Library of Congress site lists and shows portions of documents that illustrate how the Declaration of Independence evolved from its inception to the final version.
- Words and Deeds in American History This is another Library of Congress site, offering selected historical documents, including letters from John Hancock, Benedict Arnold, and John Adams to George Washington.
- The Independence Hall Association Page Includes a Documents of Freedom section, a virtual tour of many Revolutionary War sites in Philadelphia, and a detailed page on figures such as Betsy Ross and Benjamin Franklin.
- Biographies of America’s Founding Fathers Interesting facts and background on many of Colonial America’s most important figures. These biographical sketches are excerpted from the 1829 book, Lives of the Signers to the Declaration of Independence.
- U.S. Flag Page Information on the symbolism, history, and other aspects of the American flag.
- The American Revolution Center This organization is building The Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia, for the purpose of engaging the public in the history and significance of the American Revolution and its enduring legacy.
- American Independence Internet Sourcebook This site at Fordham University consists of a set of links to sources covering a wide range of topics related to the American Revolution.
- Cards at Rootsweb: 4th of July Three pages of electronic cards commemorating Independence Day, in a variety of styles.