October 11, 2001. The one-month anniversary of one of the darkest days in American history found me boarding a plane, heading to the very airport from which those ill-fated planes originated. I was traveling as a chaperone with a group of 10th grade AP US History students to Boston. Though plans had been made far in advance, because of the uncertainty of air travel, we were not sure we would get to make the trip. Fortunately, we were allowed to fly, and so began one of my favorite trips ever.
Now each year when July 4th comes around, I have a new understanding and appreciation for the holiday. It's way more than fireworks, picnics, and a day off work. So much more. While I expected the trip to Boston to be a nice adventure, I had no idea what was in store for me, and how it would forever change my view of independence. Our tour guide (a descendant of John Pitcairn) was a fascinating man with a passion for Revolutionary War history, and he made it come alive. I am grateful to have walked the very ground where it all happened. It made it real. I went inside the church where Robert Newman hung the two lanterns that signaled to Paul Revere that the British were coming. I saw the window where he escaped arrest, the window that has been blackened out to commemorate his heroic act. One late afternoon I sat in a grassy field in Lexington and listened to our guide describe the small, but significant exchange of gunshots that happened on the very ground where I was sitting. In Concord, I walked across the Old North Bridge, site of "The Shot Heard Round The World". I touched the monuments that give tribute to the men who died there. Though I didn't climb its 294 steps, I visited the monument at Bunker Hill, the site of the bloodiest battle of the war. The American soldiers were short on ammunition, and the British soldiers so many, that General Prescott ordered his men- "Don't fire until you see the whites of their eyes!" in order to make sure that every bullet counted. One of those shots would be fatal for Pitcairn. I visited the graves of many brave men who were instrumental in our early history- Paul Revere, Samuel Adams, Peter Faneuil, and John Hancock. I saw the building from which the Declaration of Independence was first read to the public. Wow.
The trip was fascinating, and I asked more questions than the students. Admittedly, history was a subject that I loathed while in school, and I remember very little of what I dutifully memorized in order to pass a test. Here in Boston it came alive to me, and much to my embarrassment, several times I found myself overcome with emotion at the enormity of the sacrifice that our forefathers (and mothers) endured to secure our independence. I have often seen and heard the remark that freedom is not free. It never has been. It never will be.
Happy Birthday, America! Thank you, soldiers of the Revolutionary War. Thank you, men and women throughout the history of our country who see to it that our Star-Spangled Banner Yet Waves, Ore The Land Of The Free And The Home Of The Brave!