Independence Day Thoughts
Dear George and Martha,
Only now have I been able to e-mail you, still we would
like to thank you for the beautiful day we had. Everything went so well. We
enjoyed every moment of it. The fellowship at the barbecue made it an extra
special day, a family time together. Not only were we commemorating the
independence of this country and the liberties it holds, but the fact that
we were in the presence of The Lord. All was done in a good atmosphere. We
traveled back thanking The Lord for His goodness, for this was our best 4th
of July yet.
Thank you for all you do to make this place a better
place, thus bless The Lord. May The Lord bless you and your family.
YL & Family
4th in Victory on Independence Day with
We Make History
means walking and talking... and walking the talk.
the journal of Private Christopher of the
Stockings -- check.
Linen shirt -- check.
Waistcoat -- check.
Wooden Canteen -- leaks. All that sealing wax melted in the trip from
Regimental coat -- check.
Tricorn -- check.
Cartridge box -- check.
Haversack -- stocked.
Hidden Gatorade bottle -- check.
Breeches -- working on it. My calves are growing or the linen is shrinking.
It's 7:45, fifteen minutes before mustering time and I'm fighting the Battle
of the Bottom Button on the left leg of my breeches. I just moved that
button too to avoid this. I suppose I could just leave it loose, but I'm not
that kind of a solider. His Excellency wouldn't tolerate any substandard
dress and I won't either.
My Queen Mother re-enters the hotel room and finds me hunched over my leg.
"Could you help me with this?"
She has it buttoned up in less than a minute, and hopefully I won't cut off
my circulation through myriad blocks of marching. We rush to the formation
point, running behind. I jump out of the station wagon, whip my French
musket from the gun sack, fumble it, and watch it drop to the ground in the
Flagstaff's Independence Day Parade
as the largest in the state and one of my most exhilarating times of the
year, portraying a soldier of George Washington's Army. I am under his
command, accompanied by our 1st Sergeant and dutiful flag-bearer, followed
by the sharply drilled Confederates of the
1st Virginia Volunteer Infantry
surrounded by the ladies and the children handing out fliers in hopes of
enticing some new recruits. We can use some more Revolutionary War soldiers.
We form up for a group photo before arranging ourselves into parade
formation. The musket wants to knock off my hat as I shoulder the weapon.
Maybe I can adjust the corners --
"Quit playing with your hat," our 1st Sergeant orders, kindly but firmly.
Cameras click off and I can only hope that silver barrel looked flattering.
"Shoulder arms!" the Sergeant commands. "With the lock out," he adds when he
finds it facing the wrong way, to my muted embarrassment. No detail shall
escape his eagle eye and those eyes will be planted squarely on me.
So my challenge is obvious: stay in formation, flanking the colors, and stay
soldierly fer cryin' out loud.
I cut loose with my displays of patriotic mirth, working the crowd but
losing proper cadence with my fellow patriot soldiers. The impression I
envision is akin to Archibald Willard's "Spirit of '76" minus the fife and
Left... left... left, right, left. Eyes forward. Musket shouldered. Lock
out. Lined up with the colors.
We encounter spectators almost immediately, dressed in a patchwork of red,
white and blue. I notice a few sparkles from glittered hats. Flag t-shirts
are en vogue. Kids are up front, sitting in parents' laps. General
Washington elicits responses. A few wave. A few clap. A few cheer. I spot a
few characters: children from karate classes in their standard-issue white
outfits, a few people wearing Viking hats. Indiana Jones is weaving up and
down the sides. Indiana Jones? American Hero, we can argue.
But a disturbing absence sinks in. This crowd doesn't have enough juice.
Maybe 9am is still too early. Walking past them, it's getting harder for me
to restrain the urge to crank up their patriotic fervor. Mere waves are not
enough, so I finally capitulate to habit.
"HUZZAH!" I cry, lifting my tricorn to the crowds. I don't care if I have to
wear the "Insubordinate" sign later. I'm going to get these people into the
To the right and left I look, scouring the crowd for cameras and making sure
people are getting the desired shot.
My Mother and Father have staked out their spot. She's got the Nikon. He's
got the Sony. And both of them should get the money shot.
We make frequent stops as vehicles make turns and participants in front of
us pause. The recruits of the 1st
Virginia show off their drill, turning to face one side of spectators
and going through a few routines from the manual of arms before marching on.
"Huzzah!" a lady to the side responds. "That's the right word!" she replies
to a girl with her. "When somebody says 'Huzzah!' you're supposed to respond
'Huzzah!" I'm not taking you to the Renaissance Festival!"
His Excellency wants us looking good as we approach the first reviewing
stand. He commands me to fix my bayonet. It slips on with hesitation, but
it's there to glisten in the morning sun and intimidate any Redcoats. It
rattles as I march.
My fellow patriots are picking up on the need to stoke fervor. "A cheer for
General Washington!" the Sergeant commands, drawing out more applause and
cheers from his side of the street. Our flag-bearer calls out the occasional
Huzzah, but they leave the boisterous call-and-response duties to our
commander and myself.
"Huzzah to the people on the top row!" I call to the crowd lining the
balcony of one of Flagstaff's historic hotels, the people with the best
vantage point in town. As is custom, the men of the
1st Virginia pause and drill for
them, saluting them with another display of precision.
"He's drilling them hard," our 1st Sergeant observes of his Confederate
We round another corner to discover a massive crowd staked out in the
generous shade of downtown's tallest building. Their enthusiasm needs little
assistance. My feet will need it climbing up the last hill of the march like
the British Regulars at Bunker Hill. We pass two more reviewing stands and
at least two TV news crews. And at last, the people are pumped up to my
The crowds thin. Our part of the parade is over. A look to the left reveals
groups and vehicles still waiting to start the journey. I dig into my
haversack for a large, long swig of Gatorade out of the sight of any
spectators when a fire engine from the parade rolls by, inhabitants waving.
"Huzzah!" I cry, one last time before returning to the mustering point for
some post-parade thoughts, and a Prayer of Thanksgiving for Liberty... from
tyranny and from our own sins.
* * *
"Do you want to go back to the room?" my father asks as Mom, Dad and I
reassemble at the car.
"I think he wants to go to the tree," Mother interjects.
The short journey to Northern Arizona University's Old Main takes mere
minutes. My family is the first to arrive. I waste no time finding the
Washington Elm, the tree born of a sprig from the original elm under which
General George Washington
assumed command of the
Continental Army in 1775. It is tall and sturdy, oh so green and
beautiful. I stand silently gazing at it as the other
We Make History
families arrive. My parents encounter the people they've heard so much
about, but have barely seen.
I pose for a couple of pictures, hastily wiping away a few tears, an
emotional response I still struggle to understand but refuse to suppress.
Our commander asks me to call the group of mingling adults and playful
children to order.
"Attention!" I command in my best attempt at a Sergeant's voice. "Gather at
"Which tree?" someone snickers.
"If you have to ask..." I say to myself as everyone aligns themselves around
the beloved NAU Washington Elm.
"Private Francis," our leader says. "Perhaps you'd like to share a few
I walk up to the tree again, surveying it and letting my heart spill out of
"It's hard for me not to become emotionally involved as I look at this
tree," I begin, launching into a discourse of where the tree came from, of
how people planted sprigs from the original all over America. I feel the
connection to George Washington
every time I see it, I say. It's a connection I can't get from books.
"I have to feel it here," I say, pointing to my heart. "Reading history
simply doesn't do it for me."
Under Washington's leadership, I remind people, the
improved disciplined and learned how to win, and they learned to win in a
way that would earn them the respect they needed to win independence.
"You may have heard the expression, the Revolution was won by hiding behind
rocks and trees. Not true!"
But His Excellency was more than a good soldier, I add. He was a man of
honor, penning rules of civility now attributed to him, "a great self-help
guide for lack of a better word. He was a great dancer as well. If you want
to model yourself around somebody, why not pick Washington? As you look at
the tree, think about the man who assumed command under it. Think about the
kind of human he was. Think about the leader he was. Think about the kind of
leader you can be and the way you can live, because Washington was all of
those things. You can be, too."
I silently stroll away from the tree, hoping my words have penetrated a few
hearts. Applause tells me I have.
Our commander offers his thoughts next about
challenging us all to use our imagination and picture Washington taking
command of an army with very little organization.
"He had every expectation that the likelihood was that his reputation, not
to mention his fortune, would be destroyed, and that was true of all of the
Founding Fathers, who pledged their lives, their liberties, their fortunes.
They stepped up to the plate, and they didn't go for a bunt. They swung for
all they were worth. They put everything on the line."
After all, Britain was both an economic and a military superpower. Britannia
ruled the waves. Nobody beat
the British at sea, except for that one day not far from Yorktown when the
French fleet turned back the Royal Navy.
"If you don't believe in Providence, you need to ponder just that one fact."
Now, our commander challenged us, it's our turn to step up for our families
and our country. We have to be the leaders, even in reluctance. God's
Providence will be there for us if we answer the call to serve.
We close with more prayers of Thanksgiving before dismissing to our cars.
"Why didn't you tell me you were going to make a speech?" Mom asks, noting
she only caught a bit of it on video.
"I didn't know I was going to make one... until then."
My entire talk on Washington was unrehearsed, unscripted, and unexpected.
But I'd heard the call and stepped up, somehow pulling words and sentiments
from the attic of my mind. And it reaffirmed my belief in Providence. I gave
thanks to God on the trip back to the hotel to change out of my uniform. I
still have much to learn about history, about Washington and the myriad
others who wove the fabric of this nation. But after all those prayers for
guidance, God just delivered.
"Do you all study history?" a parade watcher asked me, placing a dreary
vision of bookworms into my head.
"We live it!" I replied.
And thus, we make it.
The White Cockade