Salena Zito

“We American soldiers, through our training and rich traditions in our units, have a keen sense of history,” says Major General Tony Cucolo, commander of Task Force Marne and the U.S. 3rd Infantry Division in Iraq.

“We know we are the descendents of ‘ten companies of expert riflemen’ who marched to the aid of fellow Americans in Boston under siege back in the summer of 1775, even before the nation was born.”

He has fond memories of the annual July 4 parade of marching bands, Boy Scouts and veterans in the small southern New York town where he grew up: “The whole town … was awash in red, white and blue. By the time the day ended, if you weren't proud to be an American, you had to be in sensory denial or have a heart made of stone.”

From George Washington to Tony Cucolo, American soldiers share a belief that some things are literally worth fighting for: home, family, the right to assemble peaceably, the freedom to speak our minds and worship as we choose.

“Those things are, in fact, worth our lives, our fortunes, our sacred honor – just like the signers of the Declaration of Independence pledged confidently during a time of great uncertainty,” the major general says.

Soldiers take quiet pride in being among the less than 1 percent of Americans of this generation who have come forward and said, “This we will defend.”

Washington’s early military experience – including his surrender in southwestern Pennsylvania – gave him invaluable battlefield experience that most American leaders lacked.

“He learned about strategy and tactics, as well as war propaganda because of how his surrender was used by the French,” Barilleaux said.

Two hundred and fifty-six years ago today, Washington and his troops abandoned this area. Drums beat and flags flew, and the momentarily victorious Indians and French began looting the garrison's baggage on their way out.

The young Virginian had no inkling that his surrender would lead to a nation’s birth.

Salena Zito

Salena Zito is a political analyst, reporter and columnist.