For more than a decade starting in 1962, American soldiers, sailors, airmen, guardsmen and Marines in the Republic of Vietnam observed our Independence Day in firefights that ranged from the demilitarized zone to the Mekong Delta. I spent the Fourth of July in 1969 in the field hospital at Dong Ha, visiting with several of my Marines wounded in an engagement a few days earlier.
In 2004, I spent July Fourth preparing to cover U.S. Marines battling al-Qaida insurgents for control of Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province, Iraq. It was then the bloodiest place on earth and unbearably hot -- but not much different in temperature, tactics or troops from what we have documented during other sweltering summers over the past decade in Afghanistan, Colombia, the Philippines and elsewhere in Mesopotamia.
All of these places and events are a powerful reminder of who we are and why we fight. We don't deploy our sons and daughters around the world and place them in harm's way for gold or oil or colonial conquest. Americans place themselves at great risk for an idea: freedom.
This year, I didn't go off to cover a war in some far-off place. Instead, I was invited to read the Declaration of Independence -- all 1,337 words -- at a community prayer service at St. Peter's Episcopal Church here in Purcellville. It, too, was a powerful experience.
"We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness."
Those are potent words -- from the only seminal document of any country on the planet to pay homage to Almighty God. No other founding document reflects on "the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God."
And no other instrument of popular intent places the fate of its founders in the hand of God with words such as these: "For the support of this Declaration, with a firm Reliance on the Protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor."
The 56 men who penned their signatures below those words inspired a new nation. God willing, we have not become so cynical and secular that we forget what made us the land of the free.
Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist, the host of War Stories on the Fox News Channel, the author of the new novel Heroes Proved and the co-founder of Freedom Alliance, an organization that provides college scholarships to the children of U.S. military personnel killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty. Join Oliver North in Israel by going to www.olivernorthisrael.com.