Guest Opinion: Independence Day has many meanings for Americans

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Dave Skocik is a Vietnam veteran and president of the Delaware Veterans Coalition.

July Fourth has multiple meanings to people. It celebrates our independence from arguably the then-most powerful nation in the world.

To those who have served in uniform, it connects the sacrifices that made us an independent nation and that has kept us free from external threats. That battle continues today. Many veterans who have witnessed the real thing avoid fireworks displays that can result in flashbacks.

The patriots who defended and died for our freedoms since the strident Declaration of Independence 246 years ago included people from all backgrounds, beliefs and colors. They were farmers and townspeople who learned to fight, suffer and die for their belief in the concept of freedom. Their fight was assisted by help from France, with some support from Spain.

The 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence were committing treason punishable by the loss of their families and fortunes and even death. The struggle claimed hundreds of thousands of lives and the ruin of many more. More died from disease, hunger and captivity than in battle.

Although many assume the Revolutionary War began with the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776, the seven-year conflict began April 19, 1775, with the Battle of Lexington and officially ended on Sept. 3, 1783, with the Treaty of Paris.

It recognized the independence of the 13 North American states, with Canada remaining a British province. That status continues today, with the Queen of England remaining Canada’s ceremonial head of state.

It’s estimated nearly 50% of Colonists were loyal to the king. In a sense, it was our first civil war, fighting an enemy that had us outmanned and outgunned. After the British pulled out, many of the former Colonists returned to England and the Caribbean, unable to live with their former families and friends who now recognized themselves as Americans.

Some 30 years after winning our independence, Britain violated our sovereignty by impressing American sailors taken at sea into their navy. Other factors were involved, but it came to a head with the bombardment of Baltimore’s Fort McHenry as a show of force in September 1814.

Francis Scott Key, serving as an emissary between the British and the townspeople, witnessed the bombardment from an American ship. He scribbled thoughts about the garrison flag flying over the fort, noting its “broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight … were so gallantly streaming, and the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air, gave proof through the night that our flag was still there,” which later became our national anthem. Keeping our republic and its values has required the investment of lives and treasure beyond our shores. “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants,” penned Thomas Jefferson. His words were prophetic, as we continue to defend against tyrants across the globe, the latest reflected in Ukraine.

The many lives sacrificed in defense of freedom beyond our shores include World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, the Middle East and the global war on terrorism. We continue to reach out to affirm Jefferson. Not to do so invites greater aggression. In addition to a shrinking number of young Americans, today’s military includes as many as 35,000 permanent legal residents, with about 8,000 joining each year.

Our way of life depends on the unbroken tradition of “duty, honor, country” in the hearts of every generation of veterans and their families. They include incarcerated veterans, some of whom are affected by post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries that occurred during their service.