The American spirit was born on July 4th, 1776, when 56 patriots gathered in Philadelphia. The Declaration of Independence they had crafted with care and forged by vigorous debate was considered an act of high treason against a king. At the same time, it was an act of supreme loyalty to the highest aspirations of mankind – the unalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
The signers of the Declaration of Independence – Franklin, Jefferson, Adams, and Hancock among them – willingly pledged their fortunes, their sacred honor, and their very lives to not just the birth of a nation, but also to the birth of an idea. Our freedom was won then, and it is secured today, by patriots who make that very same pledge.
Every Fourth of July, we honor this heritage with a day of joyful celebration. With fireworks, parades, and picnics in small towns and big cities throughout Maine and across America, grateful citizens dedicate time and energy to ensure that this day is more joyful every year.
A defining quality of the men and women who serve in our armed forces is that they continue to serve long after their days in uniform are over. There is no better example of this than Maine’s Galen Cole. As a young man during the Second World War, he served his country heroically in an armored division in Europe. The promise he made on a battlefield in Germany to dedicate his life to his community and his fellow man is one he has fully kept through such worthwhile projects as the Maine World War II Memorial. The walking sticks veterans carry during Memorial Day, Fourth of July, and Veterans’ Day parades – made by Peavey Manufacturing in Eddington – are provided by the Cole Foundation.
George and Donna Gunning of Windsor, and Burt Truman of Hallowell, also make canes for our veterans – beautiful, handcarved, and personalized, more than 2,600 so far. A recent recipient of one such cane is my father, Don Collins, and the carvings on his cane note his combat service in Europe in World War II and his two Purple Hearts. It is an extraordinary piece of craftsmanship and a heartfelt tribute.
Since May of 2003 – regardless of the weather of the time of day -- the Maine Troop Greeters at Bangor International Airport have met more than 7,300 flights and nearly 1.5 million service members either on their way overseas or returning home. This June 14, Flag Day, the Troop Greeters co-hosted a special Welcome Home celebration for our Vietnam-era veterans.
During the Christmas season in 1991, Morrill and Karen Worcester took time during their busiest season to donate and deliver 5,000 wreaths from their company in Harrington, Maine, to Arlington National Cemetery to honor the heroes who lie at rest there. At first, a small band of volunteers laid the wreaths quietly and with little notice. In recent years, however, the Arlington Wreath Project has grown to become a national phenomenon. In the program’s first 23 years, more than 1.7 million wreaths have been placed in honor of those who have served our country. The people of Maine are proud that this profound gesture of gratitude and shining example of volunteerism began in our state.
A truly remarkable example of volunteerism in honor of our country and those who serve it can be seen Tuesday mornings on Main Street in Freeport. It is there that Elaine Greene, Carmen Footer, and JoAnn Miller keep the promise that made on September 11th, 2001, to stand vigil each week at the hour of those terrible attacks to commemorate, to honor, and to remember. They are the Freeport Flag Ladies.
They have kept their promise, and they have done so much more. Every year, they spearhead a wonderful 9-11 Tribute in Freeport. The Flag Ladies make a special effort to reach out to those who serve our country and to their families. Thousands of photographs of outbound troops have been sent back home, and families receive a weekly message. They send packages of games, magazines, and food almost every week to troops overseas. Special packages to Combat Support Hospitals contain clothing and special pillows to make the transport of wounded soldiers more comfortable.
There have been 720 Tuesdays since 9-11, but the Flag ladies aren’t keeping count. “It’s not about the number of times, it’s about the mission,” says Elaine. “The best day of my life was the day I was born an American. This is about gratitude.”
To be an American, whether by birth or choice, is a precious gift. On this Fourth of July, let us all thank those who give their time, efforts, and talents to remind us that, as citizens of this good nation, we can all be proud of our heritage and confident in our future.