Legacy of Independence

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. Michael Sullivan
  • Air Force Space Command Command Chief
Our nation approaches the 231st anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, and it has become customary for Americans to celebrate this event with family, friends, barbecues and fireworks. Some will pause to reflect on the great sacrifices made by our founding fathers and those who fought in the Revolutionary War to secure freedom for themselves, their families and future generations of Americans. But many, however, will find themselves too busy or will simply forget. 

As Airmen who carry on the traditions of military service established by those who fought to secure independence and our freedom, it's incumbent upon us to reflect upon what it means to serve our nation at a time of war. 

Our Declaration of Independence introduced the notion that "all men are created equal," that they are "endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights" and "that to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men." Today, Americans enjoy freedoms and prosperity on a scale unimaginable to those early Americans. 

But even the forerunners of freedom misfired on their interpretations of the Declaration in the beginning, and the vision of freedom seemed near-sighted for some. 

In 1776, as her husband John worked with Thomas Jefferson and others on the Declaration of Independence, Abigail Adams wrote and asked that he and the others "Remember the Ladies." Despite her efforts, the wording of the Declaration simply specified that "all men are created equal." It wasn't until August 1920 when women were recognized as equals and authorized to vote via the 19th Amendment. Moreover, African Americans, many of whom trace their heritage to slaves held by those who signed the Declaration or fought in the Revolutionary War itself, suffered generations of oppression. Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation and the Civil War freed the slaves, but failed to achieve the vision of equality espoused by the Declaration. The Civil Rights Acts of 1964, 1968 and 1991 confirmed our nation's commitment to making that vision a reality and underscored the foresight of our founding fathers as they established our Constitution as a living document. 

Today, we are once again a nation at war, and not unlike our first great struggle for independence, we fight as much for the ideal of freedom as for freedom itself. We are faced with a very capable enemy who is determined to win. Our enemy's fervor promises to make this a multi-generational conflict, but as in the past, our great nation will prevail. 

Much like our forefathers, America's youth has stepped forward and volunteered. They pledge their lives, accept that they will not build fortunes during their service, and swear an oath based on a code of honor. They do this knowing we fight for the freedoms of others as much as for our own. We sacrifice on behalf of the oppressed to establish hope, understanding that generations to come may continue to suffer, knowing their suffering will not end without such sacrifice, but most of all, knowing that continued oppression guarantees continued conflict. This is a war that cannot be lost. Freedom must prevail ... and will. 

As we pause this Fourth of July, if you're so inclined, say a prayer for those who cannot be with their loved ones, those left behind and those who struggle to find freedom for their families every day. Please take time to enjoy the company of those you love and thank them for their sacrifices on behalf of us all.