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Four Years at the Mount

Forth of July Memories

June 2014

Celebrate with a purpose

Leeanne Leary
Class of 2017

Itís time to celebrate the birth of our country. Wake up and get dressed for the occasion. Maybe some blue shorts and a white tank top with the American Flag on it. Maybe you could wear a blue t-shirt with a pocket? If youíre feeling adventurous, get a spirited bandana to use as a celebratory headband. Once youíre all dressed and ready, go to the town parade! In Manchester, Pennsylvania youíll find all sorts of groups in the parade Ė the VFW, the middle school band, Kimís Twirlettes, and many more. The parade is over, now go home and get ready to attend the best cookout of the year. Either hold one yourself, or make the trip to another, but I know you will find the best hamburgers and hot dogs that youíve had since July 4, 2013. At some point everyone under the age of 19 will post a picture online of the day, or of themselves. Now sit around and enjoy each otherís company, and the freedom we have to be able to do these sorts of things, the freedom to set off our own fireworks when the sun goes down.

I could go into any small town and find a celebration identical to the one that we hold in Manchester, Pennsylvania. Parades, cookouts, and fireworks have all become nationwide icons of the Fourth of July. It feels like a huge birthday party for our country, and we have our days of remembrance for fallen soldiers, for presidents, for those who fight for our freedom every day. So we deserve a day to celebrate, right? The truth is yes and no.

I donít want to be misunderstood. I love the parties and the insane amount of hot dogs and brownies I eat, and I certainly donít want to do away with any of that. Our country, in all of its greatness deserves a party and most definitely deserves to be celebrated, I simply donít want donít lose the importance of that celebration in the process.

We often speak casually of how our country came to be. Oh they signed the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. Thatís why we celebrate this day. And then we move on. But stop. Think about what was just said. You probably read over that as if it was just another fact. We signed another thing. But stop, think about this for just a few seconds. We quite literally declared our independence. The freedom we love so much and hold onto so dearly, was something we had missed before. It must force us to think about what went into this extraordinary act. Thomas Jefferson didnít wake up one day and think, "Iím tired of the way we live, letís be free!" and write this new declaration by the time he was finished with breakfast. We fought for this independence, and we fight for it every day. We didnít wake up and find ourselves free, and we shouldnít wake up every day without appreciating that freedom. So yes, we should party on July 4, 2014, but not without remembering all that went into these celebrations and all that happened on July 4, 1776.

July 4, 1776 wasnít the day that the Continental Congress decided to declare independence, nor was it the day that Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration or the day it was delivered to Great Britain. It wasnít the day we started the Revolution, and it wasnít the victory of any one battle. It was the day that the final wording and content was approved by the Continental Congress.

What needs to be remembered is what had to be done and sacrificed in order for this declaration to exist. In 1764, the colonies began to feel unfairly taxed and watched over. After years of dealing with this, 12 of the 13 colonies met in Philadelphia in what is called the First Continental Congress. It was here that they called for a boycott of British goods, a major act of rebellion. Hostility continued to rise and tensions grew until the first act of violence in April 1775 when British Troops travelled to Lexington, Virginia to seize gun powder and captured Samuel Adams and John Hancock. Eight Americans were killed here. At the second meeting of the Continental Congress, all 13 colonies were represented, and George Washington was named the head of the Continental Army. You can see our roots beginning to grow and take shape. It was a process, and I believe remembering it should be a process as well.

Throughout the Revolution, journalism took a critical role in the shape of Thomas Paineís Common Sense in which he convinced many colonists that America should be an independent country, not a part of Britain. Meanwhile, the British were gathering great forces in an attempt to shut down the rebellion, but the rag tag Continental army fought back. On June 11, 1776 congress chose John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Robert Livingston, and Roger Sherman to draft the Declaration. On July 2, 1776, congress voted for independence before they approved the Declaration on July 4th. It is estimated that over 20,000 died in the war of Independence, and the fighting certainly did not end when the declaration was signed.

So many lives, sacrifices, and more went into the freedom we have today, the freedom that we often take for granted. We didnít wake up free, and we shouldnít wake up without recognizing our freedom. I try to fathom what it would have been like to live in that time, or to be a part of the rebellion. I simply cannot imagine it. Today we think about what we do as a country, but can we imagine not being a country, and having to fight for that? I canít. So yes, our country does deserve a party. We deserve a huge celebration, but not without remembering why weíre celebrating. We arenít just celebrating our Declaration of Independence, but we are celebrating and remembering all that had to go into our freedom. We didnít wake up free, so we canít wake up on the Fourth of July without remembering how we got to be free. Celebrate our freedom, party for our great country, but remember all of the things that were given so that we can enjoy this time of our lives.

Read other articles by Leeanne Leary

Changing tradition

Lydia Olsen
Class of 2016

Tradition has it that come the fourth day of July Iíll wake up early, roll out of bed, and rummage through all of the clothing I own to find something fittingly patriotic. After grabbing a few bottles of water and my camera, Iíll eagerly wait for my mother to get ready. Weíll hop into her car and drive a short distance to the neighboring town, navigating through traffic and the crowds trying to get as close to the celebration as possible. Once weíve parked, my mother and I walk until we find a suitable location. We always try to find a place in the shade, but locating one that isnít already occupied borders are impossible. After searching, weíll settle on the curb to wait as the excitement builds.

The parade will begin. American flags will be passed out and all will wave them proudly. My mother and I will cheer for the decorated floats, dance as the bands play, and stand up to honor the men and women in the military as they march past us. With candy in our stomachs, sunburn forming on our shoulders, and the judgeís voice in our ears; my neighbors, my mother, and I will share in celebration of America.

On the ride home, weíll discuss our favorite displays while eating snowballs. Once home, Iíll grab the white cake mix I have been saving. Iíll mix the batter and divide it into three bowls. One will stay white, another will be dyed red with food coloring and the last will be dyed blue. After I carefully pour them into the cupcake tins and wait for them to bake to perfection, I will ice them and cover them in festive sprinkles.

Tradition has it that, with friends and family, Iíll carry those cupcakes down the street to a large white house with green shutters. Cars will be parked up and down the road, but weíll have a special spot waiting for us in the driveway. Iíll walk through the garage and open the door to the screen porch which greets me with a familiar squeak. Iíll be surrounded by wire and wicker furniture and tables lined with food, baked goods, and drinks. There will be people sitting on green cushions talking to one another and sharing stories about past times.

Iíll pass through the house and up the stairs that lead to the kitchen. Through the old halls, Iíll wander until I come to the front room. Sitting there will be Miss Ronnie, the owner of the house, surrounded by friends and sharing a story that has everyone captivated. When her eyes land on my mother, sheíll stop midsentence and a smile will spread across her face as they greet each other. As I walk into view, Ronnie will take my hand in hers and hold it for a minute or two. Iíll remember that moment and cherish it. My mother and Ronnie will chat and gossip about nearly everything. Meanwhile, Iíll be distracted by the assortment of books that line the wall and the old, black and white pictures around the room. After making sure that Ronnie has everything she could need or want, Iíll head back to the screened porch.

After making my way through into the backyard to look for frogs in the pool, Iíll see blankets scattered about and look for a place to lay my own. After layering myself with bug spray, Iíll sit down and look out in front of me. The river unfolds in front of me beyond the white wooden fence. The gentle waves rock about the boats that await the show. To the right the lights from the Naval Academy Bridge slowly hum to life as the sun sets and to the left, across the water, the Naval Academy itself springs to quiet life.

As darkness falls over all of us, the anticipation will grow. Finally, it will begin. The first firework launched from a barge by the Naval Academy will shoot into the sky and explode in a beautiful display. Onward and upward the fireworks will continue, eliciting applause from the crowds and cheers from my mom. The display in the sky will be remarkable but the reflection of the fireworks on the bay is even more astonishing. Then the finale will begin; fireworks will shoot off in rapid secession. The glow they create will illuminate the faces of those around me as they smile and enjoy until it comes to an end. Their thunderous noise will finally cease only to be greeted by outbursts of horns honking from the boats on the bay below. After lingering around to avoid the traffic jams, packing up our stuff, helping to clean up and thanking Ronnie, weíll get back into the car to head home having spent another Fourth of July in the best way possible.

This year will be different. At the age of 93, Miss Ronnie passed away and shortly after that her big, old, white house was sold. While her passing has created great sadness in those close to her, her memory and love for life and Annapolis will always live on. Though it is disappointing that the tradition of sharing the celebration of our nation with friends, family, and Miss Ronnie at the very best location will no longer be the same, I feel blessed. I feel blessed to have known such an insightful woman and to have experienced such a blessed tradition. Though I wish our yearly ritual could have continued forever, it will now become someone elseís and that is okay. I believe that they will appreciate it as much as my family and I have.

The Fourth of July is a holiday that is unlike many others in the way that it unites us all. In many ways I think that everyday should be like the Fourth of July. Every single day, not just one day of the year, we should be glad and grateful that we live in such a great country. It is true that the government doesnít always make decisions that we agree with. There are laws that we may not agree with and corruption does exist. Yet, we should always remember the things that our country does and provides for us. We are truly blessed to live in a place where we are able to express ourselves in any way we choose. Our pride in being American citizens should continually emanate from within. We should be proud to be Americans where if we know nothing else, at least we know that we are free. Rejoice that we are part of something so grand and so beautiful while remembering all of those who fight for our freedom today and in the past. We may not always have the opportunity to thank those who serve our country, but it is important that when we do have the chance, to seize it. We must express our gratitude to those who serve and have served us and keep those who have passed on in our hearts. If a time comes on the Fourth of July when your heart becomes full of sorrow for our fallen soldiers or for passed loved ones, all you have to do is think of is their view. Their view of the fireworks from heaven, and we must smile because they are surely smiling back as we celebrate together.

Read other articles by Lydia Olsen

Historyís greatest underdogs

Kyle Ott
MSM Class of 2015

I have a confession to make. I used to hate U.S. history. Yes, I know how strange that sounds coming from someone who is a self-admitted history junkie, and a proud citizen of the old U.S. of A. However, there were many years where the prospect of studying the lives of our nationís leaders and the events that shaped America seemed to pale in comparison to the Hollywood-esque sweeps of events like the Third Crusade, or the Napoleonic Wars. It wasnít until I had completed AP U.S. History in high school that I discovered my love for the topic. While it doesnít sound like much, AP U.S. History at my high school was less of a class and more of a trial by fire. You took the class knowing that it was going to be more work than youíd ever done in your entire life. It would drain you, break you, and as one of the older students mentioned, someone will cry in class.

The whole thing was taught by Thomas Breech, a grumpy bear of an old man with a walrus mustache, a penchant for growling when he talked, and a considerable amount of girth that he had retained from his career as a wrestler and football player. The tales of that class were not exaggerated, and even today as a senior in college, I count my time spent studying under Mr. Breech as one of (if not the most) grueling academic experiences of my life. However, in between the hard work, long hours, and late nights, Breech imparted something on all of us; a love for U.S history. While there were many things that I cherish from that time it was his lessons on the American Revolution that stuck with me the most. These werenít the tales of unprecedented heroism that I had grown up with. No, these were the stories of an ethnically diverse group of immigrants that broke with their mother country not for the altruistic reasons of freedom, but because they didnít want to be taxed any more.

Our struggle for independence and the first Fourth of July werenít as black and white as years of Schoolhouse Rock taught me. For the first time, we didnít hear the story of the fearless patriots who struggled in the face of overwhelming odds because they wanted to be free. Washington morphed from a mythical leader into a man who lost more battles then he won but whose major talent was in unifying people politically. In an instant we were faced with a revolution that was as interesting as it was flawed. It is my sincere hope that by painting the entire imperfect picture of our independence, you will come to love and appreciate it all the more.

At the time that the American colonies seceded from the British Empire, the entire world laughed long and hard at what they thought was going to be a one sided bloodbath. To be fair, the Brits had every reason to be confidant. They had the worldís largest, strongest, and most battle tested army. The redcoats may be known today for their bright uniforms and tendency to stand in straight lines, but what textbooks forget to mention is that these were soldiers who had already been tested over and over in the fires of combat. Their American opponentís, in contrast, were nowhere near as battle ready. While songs and stories immortalize the American minutemen of Concord and Lexington, the majority of the continental army was composed of farmers, craftsman, old men and boys as young as 10 and 12. While there were some skilled soldiers in the American ranks (usually veterans of the French and English war, or Scots-Irish pioneers accustomed to hunting and skirmishes) the vast majority of the American army was untrained and underpaid. Furthermore, Britainís navy was the scourge of the oceans having practically invented colonial naval combat. Every nation from France to Spain and back again knew that the Royal fleet was something to be feared and avoided at all cost to the point where English dominance of the sea was practically a given. While America boasted several great port cities like Boston and New York, its maritime options were nowhere near as powerful or as vast as Englandís.

Another myth about our beautiful 4th of July was that American forces wiped the English out quickly and efficiently. The simple fact of the matter is that America didnít so much as defeat the British, but exhaust them. Royal forces held major urban centers like Philadelphia and New York for the majority of the war, and won major engagement against colonial forces. Despite their successes, they could never chase down and completely destroy the Continental Army and so they were forced to remain in their urban fortresses. The major problem for the British was that America was so vast. Sure they were stronger, but unlike the continental guerrillas, they could not be everywhere. George Washington and his ragtag band of soldiers may not have won many set piece battles, like those portrayed in Mel Gibsonís The Patriot, but they could skirmish like no other. For every major encounter the British won, they lost two or three skirmishes. Their men were picked off in the wilderness, outmaneuvered in the mountains, and routed among the thorps and hamlets of early America. With every loss, King George was forced to shell out more money, and pour more resources into his rebellious colonies which were desperately needed at home and in its other investments abroad. With a lot of help from the French navy, the final siege at Yorktown proved a decisive victory for American forces. Our independence was won not with one knockout punch, but a thousand cuts.

Even our greatest heroes differ from the classic stories that we tell around bonfire and backyard barbecues. Perhaps the greatest military mind of the revolution, a man who contributed not only his expertise, but his familyís personal wealth and resources to the cause was a young aristocrat who cast down his trappings of status to lead armies in the field. No, Iím not speaking of our first president George Washington, but of the French nobleman the Marquis de Lafayette. Lafayette came to America as a young man interested in adventure, but discovered something unique about the American condition that made him throw his fortunes behind the cause of independence. Starting as a field officer, he quickly became one of Washingtonís chief aids and friends. (Lafayette would actually name his son George Washington). While Washington provided political clout, it was actually Lafayette who provided the continental army with much needed tactical and strategic knowledge. Another brilliant man that helped shift the tides of war was the renowned Prussian Drillmaster Colonel von Steuban. Von Steuban has the historical distinction of not only improving, but revolutionizing (I had to sneak the pun in somewhere) the American army. It was Steuban who was responsible for transforming the battered American survivors at Valley Forge into soldiers. It was Steuban who set the standard in camp sanitation that helped relieve the brunt of disease among the army. It was his careful discipline that allowed Continental forces to win multiple bayonet engagements. Steuban even went on to write the code that would be used to train Army recruits until 1812.

While all of these stories are wonderful, interesting, and in some cases a little shocking, especially if you snoozed in high school history, they serve to illustrate a greater point about the founding of our country. America didnít just come out of nowhere. Our country and our freedom werenít born of ballpark franks and cheap fireworks. We have a tendency to gloss over the nitty-gritty of Americaís beautiful creation. We forget that we werenít born out of patriotic fervor, and incredible talent; that the identity of our nation was forged in a crucible of work, effort, success and failure, good along with the bad. It is the imperfections of this tale that make it significant. The fact that a nation composed of foreigners, thieves, exiles, and religious dissidents could forge a strange, disjointed, and utterly wonderful culture is nothing short of a historiographical wonder. So while youíre busy flipping burgers think about this; long before we took the spotlight on the world stage, our ancestors were historyís underdogs. We werenít pretty, or popular, but we were strong, smart, pragmatic, and innovative. And at the end of the day, thatís something to be proud of. Iím Kyle Ott, wonít you sit and read for a while?

Read other articles by Kyle Ott

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