BY DUANE ALLEN VACHON, PH.D. One would initially think that a 4th of July
speech would be an easy one. After all, it’s a national holiday, a family day and
there’s usually a great picnic somewhere with hotdogs and watermelon and at
least one three-legged race or softball game.
For a veteran such as myself, however, this
holiday takes on a different meaning. You see, I had the privilege to serve
my country, to fight at Vietnam along with men who were more than
fellow soldiers. They were my very good friends. And while I came back and
can be with you here today, many of them did not. So it is in their honor
that I share some 4th of July thoughts with you today.
This is a great holiday and it honors our great nation. Independence
Day. The 4th of July. This is perhaps, the most celebrated family holiday
other than Thanksgiving and Christmas and that’s appropriate. Because the 4th
of July is all about our families. Our nation declared its independence in
order for our families to live free – not just for one generation but for
And what odds they faced. It must have seemed impossible. When the
Continental Congress unanimously adopted a resolution on July 2nd, calling for
independence, within two days the Congress endorsed the Declaration of
Independence in its final form. The 4th of July would ultimately become the
most revered national holiday in our country. But over 200 years ago, it was
just a hot summer day. Our forefathers went up against the world’s most
colossal empire since ancient Rome. No colony had ever successfully left a
mother country to set up a self-governing state. Not only were the
historical odds set against them, they were set to fight against the world’s
most powerful Navy. King George III sent a massive armada for what became
the largest amphibious assault of the 18th Century – over 300 ships and 32,000
On July 12th the British decided to test the rebel defenses by sending
the Phoenix, a 44 gun battle ship and the Rose, a 28 gun frigate past
southern Manhattan into the Hudson river. With guns blazing and cannonballs
falling on rooftops, one of the first battles for independence occurred in
New York. The rebel response was led by Alexander Hamilton who commanded
four of the largest cannons in the American arsenal which stood directly in
the line of fire.
New York was eventually lost to the British. By mid-August, only 20%
of the citizens of New York City remained – a mere 5,000 citizens. General
Washington’s soldiers, including both elderly men and young boys, would
dwindle to fewer than 3,000 as British sea power and Hessian troops overran
Fort Washington in Manhattan. General Washington retreated to New Jersey and
it would be seven years before New York was taken from British control.
But, you know how the story ends. General Washington led his rag-tag
troops across New Jersey. He would avoid large-scale confrontations that
played to the British strength and begin a new battle strategy. “We should
on all occasions avoid a general action or put anything to risk unless
compelled by a necessity into which we ought never be drawn,” he told
Congress. Small-scale skirmishes and guerilla tactics which favored
American forests and landscape would replace traditional methods of battle.
And, it worked. He won. We won. And the “United Colonies of America became
“Free and Independent States.” The United States of America was born.
Perhaps it is ironic that our battle against terrorism also began with
New York City as one of the first battlegrounds. The attack in September 11th
initiated a new war – a war on terrorism. As Deputy of Defense Secretary
Paul Wolfowitz recently told troops is Fallujah, Iraq, “What you’re doing is
fighting another kind of evil. It’s not fascism; it’s not communism; but
it’s every bit as evil. And I think it’s every bit as dangerous to our
And in this war, there is no armada of British ships visible across the
New York harbor. The enemy is present but hidden. We must re-write the battle
plans of the past and create new ways to combat this enemy. Our Navy is doing
just that. Our Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Vern Clark recently stated
that speed, agility and stealth are critical to future naval operations.
“New capabilities and concepts will give the Navy the ability to get to
the fight quicker and influence events during the pre-hostilities phase. The
national strategy that has evolved over the course of the last couple of years
is all about quick response. The first rule is: can you get to the fight. To
stay credible, future capabilities and platforms must be able to respond in
time to deal with any future conflicts, he said.
Our ability and agility will form the foundation of future war-fighting.
Our determination to win, however, was forged over 200 years ago when
insurmountable odds were overcome. The 4th of July is truly our Independence
Day – a day of celebration, or remembrance and of re-dedication to our
I know that you share with me your pride in being an American. Our
country has been criticized for being the richest country in the world. Let me
suggest that we are proudly the richest country in the world – rich in our
multi-cultural heritage, rich in our traditions, rich in our entrepreneurial
spirit, our zest for the unknown and our reach into the future. The American
colonies became the United States of America because of our determination, our
self-discipline and most of all, our dreams. Our desire for life, liberty and
the pursuit of happiness is not a coined phrase, but a day-to-day philosophy
celebrating free-expression, freedom of religion, freedom of speech and the
right to be and remain free.
It is in this spirit of freedom that the 4th of July should be
celebrated. Our soldiers and sailors are working all over the world to
support the vision that became a reality over 200 years ago. They are willing
to spend the 4th of July away from their families so that we can be with ours.
So I hope between the softball and the BBQ and the picnics and the fireworks,
each of you will take a few moments to send a prayer of thanks. Thanks to
our forefathers for their vision and thanks to our soldier and sailors around
the world for their dedication.
Happy 4th of July to each of you. May you continue to celebrate our
freedom, in freedom.
Duane A. Vachon Ph.D
Dr. Vachon is a 100% disabled combat wounded veteran.