Walking Point on Independence Day

I just returned from a visit to Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. The visit reminded me of my own Marine Corps and military heritage and history. I remember those with whom I served and friends that are no longer here with us. A strange catharsis brought me needed renewal and restoration. Although 35 years had passed since I had last been to Camp Lejeune, it was as if I was 18 years old again. Time stood still for a brief moment. It was a good reminder of why freedom has always been important to me personally and to our nation just in time for Independence Day.

As I thought about my own life, I thought about the significance of life itself. Life is no longer valued as a result of changing norms, values, attitudes, and customs. Examine the suicide and murder rate in some of our urban and rural areas. I have seen the data on the large number of American veterans who take their own life, many crying out for help and not finding it. I lost a very close friend earlier this year who took his own life because he “no longer wanting to be a burden”. It is a sad loss of hope. People have seemingly lost faith in our own capabilities to take care of ourselves, as well as in our institutions to help meet our societal challenges. A nation that can send an 18-year-old to war, can afford to take care of them after the war.

The words of Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence taught us, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Do we still believe in that premise? Are we witnessing the political demise of our great country, following similar self-inflicted harm?

Each July 4th, Independence Day, our nation commemorates the Declaration of Independence of the United States. “Ever honored will be the day which gave birth to a nation, and to a System of self-government, making it a new Epoch in the History of Man” according to James Madison. It is worth remembering the story of Benjamin Franklin as he exited the Constitutional Convention when asked what sort of government Americans would have, his answer, “A republic, if you can keep it.”

Jefferson reminded us: “That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to affect their Safety and Happiness.”

In military jargon, walking point means to take responsibility for the first and most exposed position in a combat military formation. The person walking point is literally the person most at risk for death or injury during a confrontation with the enemy. It is critical that every member of a ‘fire team’ or platoon know the duties of the other team members, and in turn, they must be ready and able to assume the duties of their next superior. Walking point is a challenge and responsibility for every Marine or soldier.

Every American has to walk point during their civic life. Our nation, our republic, is unquestionably dependent upon the active and informed involvement of our citizens. This Independence Day we must remind ourselves, as Ronald Reagan did: “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same.” What sacrifice would we be willing to make today for freedom? That is a question we should ask frequently.

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JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the association are properly cited. For more information on this subject or any education issue please contact Professional Educators of Tennessee.