Young George's Fourth
by SALENA ZITO
July 4, 2012
JUMONVILLE GLEN, Pa.
Between this heavily wooded ravine along an Allegheny Mountains summit and the "great meadow" down the road, a young George Washington offered his only surrender in battle.
The date was July 4, 1754.
"It is pretty amazing standing here, knowing at this very spot the seeds of democracy were sown," says David Harkleroad, 26, a "living historian" for the National Park Service.
The shots fired between forces led by Washington, then a British emissary, and the French and their Indian allies were the first of the Fort Necessity campaign, which led to the worldwide French and Indian (or Seven Years) War.
"In yet another twist of irony," Harkleroad adds, "because Britain was the ultimate winner of the French and Indian War, the Brits had to pay down their war debt by taxing the colonists, ultimately leading to the rebellion and eventually our independence.
"Americans, as you see today with tea party protests, still rebel against taxes," says Harkleroad, who has served two Pennsylvania National Guard tours in Iraq. "We are ... willing to still fight for economic independence."
Twenty-two summers after Washington's defeat, the Continental Congress commissioned Thomas Jefferson to draw up a declaration for independence, says political historian Ryan Barilleaux of Miami University of Ohio. "But it was voted for on July 2, 1776, not the Fourth."
John Adams, an advocate of independence in that Congress, wrote to his wife Abigail that July 2 "will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. ... It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade with shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this continent to the other from this Time forward forever more."
He was right about the celebrating, Barilleaux notes, yet wrong about the date.
On July 4, 1826, Adams and Jefferson -- the only two signers of the Declaration of Independence who became president -- died on the nation's 50th anniversary.
Most Americans' love of celebrating Independence Day has little to do with an extra day off and much to do with its significance.
Along main streets across the country, flags begin to fly on Memorial Day. By July 4, communities such as Uniontown, 10 miles down the old National Pike from Jumonville Glen, are a maze of red, white and blue.
More than 6,000 miles away, Independence Day has extra-special meaning in a combat zone.
"We American soldiers, through our training and rich traditions in our units, have a keen sense of history," says Maj. Gen. Tony Cucolo, commander of Task Force Marne and the U.S. 3rd Infantry Division in Iraq.
"We know we are the descendants of '10 companies of expert riflemen' who marched to the aid of fellow Americans in Boston under siege back in the summer of 1775, even before the nation was born."
He fondly recalls July 4 parades in the small southern New York town where he grew up: "The whole town ... was awash in red, white and blue. By the time the day ended, if you weren't proud to be an American, you had to be in sensory denial or have a heart made of stone."
From George Washington to Tony Cucolo, American soldiers believe some things are literally worth fighting for: home, family, rights to assemble peaceably, speak our minds and worship as we choose.
"Those things are, in fact, worth our lives, our fortunes, our sacred honor -- just like the signers of the Declaration of Independence pledged confidently during a time of great uncertainty," Cucolo says.
Soldiers take quiet pride in being among the less than 1 percent of this American generation who have come forward and said, "This we will defend."
Washington's early military exploits -- including his southwestern Pennsylvania surrender -- gave him invaluable battlefield experience that most early American leaders lacked.
"He learned about strategy and tactics, as well as war propaganda, because of how his surrender was used by the French," Barilleaux says.
Two hundred and fifty-six years ago today, drums beat and flags flew, and the momentarily victorious Indians and French began looting the baggage of Washington and his troops on their way out.
The young Virginian had no inkling that his surrender would lead to a nation's birth.