This week we celebrate Veterans Day, a day of appreciation and gratitude for all who have served in the United States Armed Forces.
My grandfather served as a career Army officer. My father grew up moving from base to base as his father was ordered to different locations by the Army. They lived in Kansas, Germany, France and Columbus, Ga., where my father graduated high school.
When I was young, we traveled as a family to the Panama Canal Zone, where my grandfather was stationed. I don't remember the canal, but I do remember playing cowboys and Indians with my Aunt Candy, who is six months older than I am.
We would run from tree to tree, taking cover and exchanging fire. Whoever was wounded or killed would pop back up a minute later, ready to get back in the battle.
This version of war was a child's game, full of innocence. We didn't understand that, in real life, war has terrible consequences. We just knew that, in the game we were playing, the bad guys lost and the good guys won.
The reality of war is different -- it's ugly, it's deadly, and unfortunately, sometimes it's unavoidable. When it is unavoidable, we are lucky to have men and women who are willing to serve our country and make the ultimate sacrifice, if necessary.
We are a nation born out of war. We declared ourselves independent from the British in 1776. It took us eight years to earn our independence from the British through the American Revolutionary War.
It is fitting that a book about George Washington's heroic service as commander in chief of the Continental Army comes out the week of Veterans Day -- "Valley Forge," by Newt Gingrich, my father, and Bill Forstchen. Washington was appointed the commander in chief in the spring of 1775. Not only was he the commander in chief, but at the time, he was the only member of the Army.
"Washington is at the heart of American exceptionalism because it's at the heart of the American experience," said Dad this week. "Bill Forstchen and I wrote 'Valley Forge' because we think there's a tremendous lesson to learn from how Washington took the rejection of the British, which was the Declaration of Independence, and created the replacement of British military power with the modern American Army, which was an extraordinary achievement. ... Washington emerged as father of our country because he had the sheer courage to go through a winter at Valley Forge with 14,000 troops, no food, two axes initially to build housing, and his courage and his honor and dignity are the base in which this whole country resides. ... You can't imagine America without George Washington."
Our nation was born through the trials of war. The union was saved the same way.
Abraham Lincoln, elected Nov. 6, 1860, was determined to save the union. "The campaign had been impassioned and contentious. More than 80 percent of eligible voters turned out. Lincoln received 59 percent of the electoral votes, but less than 40 percent of the popular vote," I write in my upcoming book, "The Essential American: 25 Documents and Speeches that Every American Should Own" (Regnery). "In the 17 weeks between Lincoln's election and his Inaugural Address, seven states, South Carolina, Mississippi, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Louisiana and Texas, seceded from the Union."
While he hoped for peace without war, he was determined to keep the nation united.
Lincoln's Inaugural Address placed the onus for potential war on the Southern states, "In your hands, my dissatisfied countrymen, and not in mine, is the momentous issue of civil war."
Four years later, Lincoln was re-elected. He delivered his Second Inaugural Address on March 4, 1865.
"The dome that had been half-complete at the time of the first inaugural, with a crane sticking out of the top, had been completed. The Union Army had been victorious in recent battles, and the war's final outcome was all but determined. Slaves had been freed, and the Capitol was surrounded by the biggest crowd to date, with half of them reported as 'persons of color.'"
The clouds broke and the sun came out, as Lincoln began to speak. Through the guidance of divine providence, the leadership of Lincoln and the service of our soldiers, the union was saved.
As we remember and honor those who have served our country, we should remember that our country would not survive without the service of all our brave women and men. Thank you for your service to our country.