Under different circumstances I would have devoted more than a few paragraphs here to Independence Day and related subjects. Alas, I am without internet access where I am staying this week, and am reduced to sharing a few thoughts using my Palm Treo device.
Aside from the pure significance of this date, the last week has presented me with sort of a triple whammy of American political-military history, with all its pride, tragedy, love, and sacrifice.
I spent last week in Philadelphia, using my first visit there to visit all the patriotic-historical sites I could. If you haven't been, you must go. Every American should stand in Independence Hall and reflect what took place there in 1776 and 1787.
We also spent a day at Gettysburg National Battlefield. I am grateful to Ralph for posting below something about what happened there on the first three days of July, 1863. (Details are here.) Again, if you can possibly get to Gettysburg, please do; you will not be disappointed. Pickett's Charge (or Longstreet's Assault, if you prefer) takes on a different meaning when you stand on Seminary Ridge and contemplate how those Union cannon must have looked to the Confederate soldiers charging into them. Even more poignant to me, as a Union sympathizer and descendant of a Union soldier, was standing on Little Round Top at the end of the day and realizing how dlfferent history might have been without the alert and heroic actions of Gouverneur Warren and Joshua Chamberlain, who helped keep that supremely strategic location in Union hands.
Finally, through it all I was reading "Flags of Our Fathers" by James Bradley. It's impossible to do justice to that book in one paragraph. Bradley's fine volume is about the American assault on Iwo Jima and the lives of the men who ended up in the famous flag-raising photo (one of whom was his father). Did you know that Iwo Jima was America's costliest battle since Gettysburg? "Flags" is another must-read for Americans who care about their country's past and the sacrifices so many have made for our present.
In the volcanic stone outside the American cemetery on Iwo Jima, someone chiseled these words:
When you go home
Tell them for us and say
For your tomorrow
We gave our today.
Something to remember on every Fourth of July.