We love the things we sacrifice for, and many Americans have sacrificed their all for their country. Our great battles tell the stories.
Why have our soldiers had the courage and unselfishness to give themselves for America’s cause? Like individual bricks in a protective wall, each of their lives has blessed future generations.
Miracles and great sacrifices have attended America’s battles for freedom. Three pivotal battles in three pivotal confrontations, the Revolutionary War, the Civil War and World War II, stand out in our history. These three wars, alone, cost well over a million lives. What drove those who gave the ultimate gift of self in these wars? The reasons were as varied as the people themselves. For some it was a job. For others it was excitement, what “everybody was doing “, or an escape from the farm, the factory or the hometown. In the end, however, their generations embraced a deep love of country through the chaos of war.
The Revolutionary War battle for Long Island in July of 1776, just days after American independence was declared, was critical. Half of Washington’s 15,000 men were too ill to fight. The colonials lost the disastrous battle, with one thousand casualties to the enemy’s one hundred. The Americans were trapped in Brooklyn and faced annihilation. A miracle of storms and fog held the British at bay and allowed Washington to evacuate his troops across the East River, within sight of the British, in an all-night effort. At sunrise, thousands of Americans had yet to cross the river. A miraculous morning fog held like a curtain until the entire colonial army had fled to safety.
Nathan Hale, a 21 year old teacher from Connecticut, fought in the Revolutionary War along with his 5 brothers. During the battle for Long Island, he volunteered for a dangerous spy mission behind enemy lines. He was captured after his cousin, sympathetic to the British, betrayed him, and hung by the British on September 22, 1776. His final words reveal his love of country: “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.”
The Battle of Gettysburg in July of 1863 was a great but terrible victory, the apex of a civil war that claimed 600,000 American lives. Both sides needed to win at Gettysburg: the North to preserve the Union, the South, to take Washington, DC, win the war, and perpetuate the stain of slavery. As 165,000 men moved into the tiny village in Pennsylvania, the fate of a nation hung in the balance. Valiant Union soldiers, who donated their blood and dreams as they refused to fail, repulsed the Southern barrage at Culp’s Hill, Cemetery Ridge and Little Round Top, giving victory to the North. More than 40,000 dead and wounded resulted from the three day battle. In the aftermath, slavery ended along with the Southern rebellion. While it took decades for the ugly wounds to heal, the Union was preserved.
Sergeant Henry W. Tisdale enlisted in Company G of the 35th Massachusetts Infantry on July 10, 1862. His 3 year diary of the Civil War tells why he served: “Soon after the President’s call for the 300,000 volunteers felt it my duty to be one of them, feel it as much a Christian as a political duty, and feel every citizen ought to feel it so….have never felt more peace of mind as flowing from a sense of duty done”. Henry died in 1922 at the age of 85 in Roxbury, MA.
The Battle of Midway during World War II was also critical to America. The world was locked into “the war to end all wars”, and the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941.Thirty five hundred Americans were casualties and the US cried for vengeance. As massive troops and ships from both sides moved into place at Midway Island, an essential fuel stop for American strikes against Japan, all odds were against the US. There were many miracles at Midway. The Americans gained critical information when they broke the sophisticated Japanese radio code. Repeatedly, American fliers found the enemy in the vast expanses of ocean and timed attacks for greatest success. Had we lost at Midway, the Japanese would have owned the Pacific, changing the war’s outcome and the balance of world power. Over 400,000 American soldiers fell in World War II, 100,000 of them in the Pacific theater.
Talk to one of the few surviving World War II veterans, those we call “the greatest generation”, and you hear unabashed patriotism, often accompanied by tears. Fred Openshaw, who died in Santaquin, Utah, in 1977, served in both World Wars I and II, where he fought in the Pacific theater. Near the end of his life, he said, “I served my country in both world wars, and if they asked me to do it again, I would.” His sacrifices for his country had driven patriotism deep into his soul.
Do we, as individuals and a nation, still have a deep love of country as a part of our national character? What sustained these soldiers? For many, it was national pride and independence as a national character trait; a focus on something larger than self—a nation’s need.
As we take stock of ourselves for 2015, let us resolve to become involved: to scrutinize the issues, donate our time and money to sound, patriotic causes, and study our Constitution. If we lose our freedoms, the unnamed, unsung patriots of the past will have died in vain.