Those who watched the colonial army in the winter of 1776 would not have given a red cent for its chances. One could see where the sentries had walked their patrols by following the bloody footprints each of them left in the snow behind shoeless and frozen feet. There was nothing to eat, and the only shelter was provided by shanties the men had built themselves.
The wise bet was that there would be no army left by spring.
Yet in the spring of 1777, not only did an army march out of Valley Forge, but it was no longer a ragtag bunch of civilians. It was a trained and disciplined fighting machine.
History will speak of those who came to train the men. It will speak of Washington’s indomitable spirit. Both statements are true – and important.
But the more fundamental question is why the men stayed at all. They did not know that success was around the corner. They only knew that they were freezing and starving. And it looked like spring would bring them complete and utter defeat – with all the attendant penalties.
Yet each man made the decision to stay. What was so important that each was willing to risk everything?
The simple answer is The Truth.
St. Augustine once said, "The truth is like a lion; you don’t have to defend it. Let it loose; it will defend itself."
And in July of 1776, a group of Americans came together and set the truth free. The truth that there is a Creator Who endowed each of us with rights that are forever beyond the legitimate reach of any government. The truth that the purpose of government is to protect those rights. The truth that government is, in the end, answerable to the people for its conduct. The truth that a government that tramples on the God-given rights of those it governs can be changed or abolished.
The men freezing and starving in those Valley Forge huts recognized that they were fighting to set the truth free. And each of them decided that giving wings to the truth was worth every sacrifice they were being called to make.
America’s truth may have been written in the sweltering heat of a Philadelphia summer, but it was truly set free in the frigid cold of a Valley Forge winter.
And throughout our history, men and women have sacrificed to keep the truths the nation was founded upon free. We see the fullness of their sacrifice in places like the fields of Gettysburg, the beaches of Normandy, the peninsula of Bataan, the jungles of Vietnam, and the deserts of Iraq. Each of them, individually, made the decision that the truths upon which America stands must remain free and gave the ultimate gift to ensure that their decision would prevail.
The lion of truth has made this nation truly exceptional.
But those who seek to put that lion in a cage are never idle. Their efforts mean that someone must forever stand before the cage door, and deny them passage.
It is our men and women in uniform who stand before that door, denying that passage with their lives, and sometimes even their deaths. They are the guardians who ensure that America remains a nation founded on truth.
We salute them.
Happy Veterans Day!