The 4th of July is a time of celebration.  We celebrate shared values, a belief in freedom, the bravery of people who stood up for what they believed in, and a people who came together to form one of the greatest nations in the history of the  world.

Today with the challenges we face and the division that seems to fill the airwaves, perhaps this 4th of July it makes sense to take a minute to remember what the land of the free and the home of the brave is all about. 

When I was a young girl, the 4th of July often meant a family picnic on the peaceful rolling hills of the Valley Forge Encampment.   The Mom’s would lay out a picnic feast while we kids would climb up the hills to roll down again in the sweet summer grass, climb on revolutionary war cannon, and wander through cabins and stone houses that were once, for a time, the headquarters of Washington and Lafayette. 

It was not until I was a bit older and had studied my history that I understood the real meaning of Valley Forge, a Revolutionary War site that never saw battle but still cost the lives of 2,000 brave soldiers.  They did not fall to cannon fire or the bayonets of the Red Coats.  Instead they lost their lives to cold and  other hardships that many of us could not imagine today.  Yet they stayed there by choice, coming together as a fighting force and a country. They were fathers and sons, wives and mothers, children and old men, farmers and shop keepers, free men and slaves, descendents of the Mayflower and immigrants who barely spoke our language.  They shared a  dream of freedom and left their warm homes to await the next battle though a cold Pennsylvania winter. 

“To see the men without clothes to cover their nakedness, without blankets to lie upon, without shoes…without a house or hut to cover them until those could be built, and submitting without a murmur, is a proof of patience and obedience which, in my opinion, can scarcely be paralleled.”

George Washington at Valley Forge, April 21, 1778

Many of their hardships that winter were due to inexperience, a lack of provisions, poor sanitation, and the new government’s inability to properly provision the troops.  Yet, the troops persevered.  They did not do so quietly.  Many grumbled as they trained in the cold and wet winter.  At times the conditions were so bad that a mutiny was feared, but in they end they came together as a unit and many who weathered that harsh winter would ultimately stand on the field at Yorktown on the day the British surrendered and the the last battle had been fought.   

We did not win the war on the strength of our government but perhaps in spite of it.  Congress long ago was often as in effective as it is today.  As they squabbled and debated, the men shivered in the cold and held on.  They looked to their leaders for inspiration, to their comrades for support, and inside themselves for strength.  

The challenges we face today are different than those that were faced at Valley Forge, but the lessons they left us can still serve us well.  We live in a nation that was born of their thirst for freedom, their commitment to a goal, and their willingness to sacrifice and persevere to reach it. 

Last week, I traveled back to the Valley Forge area for some meetings and decided to detour through the park on my way back to the Philadelphia airport.  As I sat in my rental car looking out across the park, it was quiet in the early morning.  Turning off the engine and the radio, I took the time to remember and to listen.  It was almost as if the voices of the children we once were echoed in the breeze along with a faint whisper of voices from days long past.  This was a place of freedom, of friendships forged, and of challenges faced and overcome.   A place where leaders walked and brave men  and women perished so that we could have the opportunities we have today.  The 4th of July is not just about picnics and fireworks.  It’s about freedom and the people who believed in it.  It’s about innovators who envisioned a new nation and everyday people who believed in something and saw it through. 

They bravely committed to make our county a better place – perhaps this 4th of July, we might want to do the same. 

Thanks for stopping by for a little life story.  Stay tuned…

Joan Koerber-Walker

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