Last night I had the honor to be the Patriotic Speaker at my town’s Independence Day festivities. Here is the text of the speech I gave.
What is Your Gift to America?
Good evening, Ladies and Gentlemen. It’s an honor and privilege to speak to you tonight. I wondered what I might say to you tonight that you haven’t already heard before. Nevertheless, as the Army Engineer motto goes “Essayons” which means “Let us try.” Or in this case tonight, I will try.
Tonight I want to talk to you about birth, life, death, and about the gifts we give to each other.
But first let me ask you a question. What are we doing here tonight? Are we here just to enjoy some good music, some good food, and some fireworks? Is that all we’re here for? No, we are here to celebrate the birth of our great country The United States of America! So let’s talk about birthdays. Birthdays are a celebration of a new life and the great promise that life holds. When a child is born great hope comes along with it. It’s a hope that anything is possible. It’s a hope that the child will take what his father left and make it better. It’s a hope that the child will grow up to do great things. As each year passes we celebrate the growth and achievements of that person.
And so it must have been with our founding fathers. What great hope they must have had in their new republic?! They risked much to create a country the likes of which had never existed before on the face of the Earth. It is a country that is more than just ornate buildings in Washington. It’s a place where all are created equal and all deserve respect. A place where we could be free from religious persecution, where the press is free from government censure, a place where we could assemble freely or petition the government for redress of grievances. It was a country founded on principles like liberty, justice, and equality. Those founding principles transcend the centuries and are still alive today. Each year, as we are doing today, we celebrate the promise of this great country. And we celebrate the divinely inspired ideals that formed its foundations.
It’s our custom to give gifts to the one whose birthday we celebrate. Those gifts represent our love and appreciation or friendship. But sometimes it’s hard to think of a nice gift. I mean what do you give to someone who has everything? Nevertheless we try to give the best gift we can. So let me ask you: What is your gift to America?
Strangely enough, if not ironically, when we speak of birth and life we also speak of death. All of our founding fathers risked their lives for this country. They were committing treason after all, but they were willing to die if necessary so that this country could be born. And many men and women have died since then defending it.
I’ll never forget how if felt when I received the news that a friend had been killed in action in Afghanistan. An empty pain in my heart. He was killed by small arms fire—a most violent way to die—as the platoon he led was ambushed in the rugged terrain near the Pakistani border. I was sad for his lovely wife now a widow at the young age of 23. He and I were classmates at the Army Engineer School at Fort Leonard Wood. Because we had only been together for five months learning how to be engineer officers, I didn’t know him too well. But he was my brother in arms. And his loss made the war real for me for the first time.
In the following days, I read newspaper articles about him, and I got to know him better. He was a passionate person who answered the call of duty. He wanted to give back to his country so he joined the Army. And he followed in the footsteps of two grandfathers who served in WWII. It was a matter of honor and duty for him. The gift that my friend 2LT Mike McGahan gave wasn’t that he died for his country. Rather his gift was that he lived for it. The way he lived his life honored the founding principles of our country. What is your gift to America?
One of my favorite lines of the patriotic hymn The Battle Hymn of the Republic says “As he died to make men holy let us live to make men free.” Your gift can be the way you live your life. You can make men free by the way you treat them. You don’t have to join the military to show your devotion. But you can live in a way that honors the principles upon which our country was founded. Live in a way that honors those who have given their lives for our sakes.
You have generous hearts, and you are ready to give aid to those in need. I saw that first hand when Joplin was struck by the tornado. When any natural disaster strikes you are there to help your fellow man, and in doing so you emulate those principles this country was founded on. But don’t wait for a disaster before you start serving one another. Do it today. That could be your gift to America.
You are particularly generous to those who wear the Uniform. I have experienced this myself. Complete strangers have paid for my lunch. Someone upgraded my airline seat to first class when I was traveling home from Basic Training. And many people have shaken my hand and thanked me for my service. It’s humbling to receive such praise and support. Believe me, we appreciate it more that you know. Keep it up! That could be your gift to America. But don’t stop there.
Look around at the people in front of you, at your sides, and behind you. Maybe you know them, maybe you don’t. Treat them with the same respect and service you give to us in uniform. They deserve it too because underneath this uniform, I’m just a regular guy. I’m no better a person because I wear the uniform than the guy or gal standing next to you wearing shorts and a t-shirt. Pay it forward and help the people in your life too. That can be your gift to America. Our communities, our friendships, our nation will be stronger for your efforts. Don’t wait. Do it today.
So let’s enjoy the fireworks tonight as we celebrate the birthday of this great nation. It isn’t a perfect country, but it is the best country on the face of the Earth. It’s a country where I can critique the government with impunity, a country where I can worship God according to the dictates of my own conscience, a country where I can buy guns to defend myself if I want to, a country where I can vote for whomever I choose without coercion, a country where I can travel in my car without permission, a country where I can have more than one child without penalty. This is the greatest country on the face of this Earth without apology and without exception. Celebrate the promise of this great nation by living up to the great promise of your own life. Don’t wait. Do it today.
So let me end like I began–with a question. What is your gift to America?
Thank you, and God Bless America!