A few years ago Nancy and I spent part of our vacation in Normandy. We had a wonderful time. The people of Normandy are especially gracious. I think the graciousness stems from the deep sense of appreciation the people of Normandy have for those who gave their lives to liberate them back in 1944.
This sense of appreciation is especially evident in the tender care the people of Normandy give as custodians for the cemeteries and monuments that dot the landscape. I remember passing through the American Cemetery that overlooks Omaha Beach. As I weaved my way around the white crosses or the stars of David that mark the final resting places of the brave souls who gave their lives I could see that there wasn’t a blade of grass out of place. It’s a reflection of the love the people of Normandy have for those who died liberating them.
While in Normandy I took part of a day to walk up Omaha Beach. I started at the water’s edge and made my way slowly up the beach. As I did I occasionally looked up, trying to get some sense of what things must have been like on June 6th, 1944. I came to the conclusion that everyone who embarked from the landing craft must have reckoned themselves to be dead men before they ever set foot on French soil.
Why would so many men risk what must have seemed like certain death? Did they all have death wishes? Did they enjoy the inner feelings of terror they must have felt? The only answer that seems satisfactory to me is that they loved liberty, their own and that of others, more than they loved their own lives.
Nine thousand, three hundred and eighty-seven Americans are buried at the American Cemetery in Normandy. They lie peacefully, cared for lovingly and tenderly by the people of Normandy.
The 4th of July is just about upon us. Fireworks are already on sale her in Emporia.
I doubt that I’ll be lighting up any bottle rockets, I’ll try to celebrate, but I’m going to have a hard time. It’s not because I don’t understand what liberty is all about or because I don’t appreciate the sacrifices so many Americans are still willing to make to preserve liberty. I’m having a hard time because I believe many of our leaders have lost their way. They have forgotten.
Maybe if I remind them they’ll listen. Maybe they’ll realize that liberty’s timeless voices need to be heard these days.
In his “Dissertation on Canon and Feudal Law,” One of our Founding Fathers, John Adams, said, “The jaws of power are always open to devour, and her arm is always stretched out, if possible, to destroy the freedom of thinking, speaking, and writing.”
In August, 1776, Samuel Adams had this to say to American loyalists who valued security under the tyranny of King George more than liberty – “If ye love wealth greater than liberty, the tranquility of servitude greater than the animating contest for freedom, go home from us in peace. We seek not your counsel, nor your arms. Crouch down and lick the hand that feeds you; and may posterity forget that ye were our countrymen.”
On March 23rd, 1775, Patrick Henry¸ speaking at St. John’s Church in Richmond, Virginia, uttered these now famous words – “Why stand we here idle? What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!”
Speaking to the ratifying committee of the Virginia legislature in June of 1788, Patrick Henry warned, “The liberties of a people never were, nor ever will be, secure, when the transactions of their rulers may be concealed from them.”
In his 1838 Lyceum address, Abraham Lincoln answered the question of what might ever destroy the American union with these stark words – “At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer, if it ever reach us, it must spring up amongst us. It cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide.”
In 1787, James Madison warned “The means of defense against foreign danger historically have become the instruments of tyranny at home.”
And finally there’s this timeless wisdom from a James Madison to Thomas Jefferson letter penned in 1798 – “Perhaps it is a universal truth that the loss of liberty at home is to be charged against provisions against danger, real or pretended from abroad.”