"Those who won our independence...valued liberty both as an end and as a means. They believed liberty to be the secret of happiness, and courage to be the secret of liberty."
-- Louis Brandeis
If you've ever visited a nation that cages its people or offers them little "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness," then forever afterward you'll find it difficult to restrict your celebration of American independence to just one, mid-summer day each year.
I'll always remember my first visit to Berlin, West Germany. It was 1968, seven years after an ugly, hastily erected mortar and barbed wire wall cut the former (now restored) Ger-man Capital in two. Orches-trated by power-hungry Communist leaders to stem a mass exodus of her leadership and the disenchanted to the West, the Berlin Wall would continue to disrupt a gallant peoples' lives for another 21 years. Our family, fellow tourists and even our guide could find no words to describe the horror of that initial, inhuman sight.
"Sit down!" shouted the armed guard. "Don't move until I say so!"
We weren't spectators this time, nor soldiers under the guard's command or prisoners under his care. We were international passengers on a British Airways jet waiting to disembark at the Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, Israel.
Flight attendants had warned us not to move from our seats until a security guard came on board the aircraft and determined we could safely deplane. But impatient or inattentive passengers had disobeyed the warning, and precipitated the guard's powerful command.
In 1976, while most of America celebrated her grand Bicentennial on their own turf, 75 other Americans and I were seated in a small conference room in Ankara, Turkey, taking part in a spiritual retreat for this isolated segment of our military population.
Those were strange, political times for our soldiers and airmen in Turkey. Because of Turkey's dispute with Greece over territorial boundaries concerning the Island of Cyprus, and what the Turkish government considered a swing in U.S. loyalty toward their hostile neighbor to the north, Turkey had seized control of all American bases on their soil.
Although our personnel were in no danger, it was against Turkish law at the time to fly the American flag anywhere in the country.
During the final evening of the retreat, a young Air Force wife from Georgia, wearing a red, white and blue colonial-style dress, began reading a stirring tribute to her beloved, unseen flag. Suddenly, and without announcement, her dramatic presentation flowed from prose to song, and we heard the initial strains of The Battle Hymn of the Republic.
"Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord...," her equally stirring song began.
But by the time she reached the well-known, "Glory, glory, hallelujah!" all remaining members of that "republic" in the room sprang to their feet and wept unashamedly as they swelled a delicate, solo soprano into a deafening fortissimo.
On this Fourth of July, whether sitting in a small room, standing at attention for a holiday parade or gazing at a glorious fireworks display, I'll have the uninhibited honor of raising my country's flag, singing any patriotic song I wish and celebrating the anniversary of a nation I value above all others.
I'll see no drab, war-ravaged landscape to mar her beauty, hear no external order to keep my enthusiasm under wraps and, as long as my countrymen and I determine to keep her independence alive, experience no iron fist to encircle me in a cage of tyranny.
"My country, 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty...," where no one erects walls to keep us in, escorts us off planes at the bark of a voice or point of a gun or prohibits flying the glorious symbol of our land when and where we will.
"....Long may our land be bright, with freedom's holy light; protect us by thy might, great God our King."
-- My Country, 'Tis of Thee,
by Samuel F. Smith, 1832
(Barbara Seaborn is a local freelance writer. E-mail comments to email@example.com.)
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