Happy 4th of July

  • Published
  • By Col. Mark S. Larson
  • 914th Air Refueling Wing commander

Members of the 914 ARW,


On the eve of the 4th of July holiday I want to take the opportunity to thank you for all you do for this wing and our country.  This will be the last time I celebrate this holiday as a member of the military and it has caused me to reflect more deeply on the significance of the day.


Many years ago I attended a course at the Naval War College and one of the mandatory readings was a book written by David Hackett Fischer titled, “Washington’s Crossing” which I would highly recommend. On the cover is the famous painting of Washington standing in a boat crossing the Delaware River from Pennsylvania to New Jersey on Christmas in 1776. On that night a poorly equipped and ragged army of 2,400 colonials crossed that ice-choked river in the throes of nor’easter that produced heavy snow and sleet. We all know the outcome of the event in that after marching all night through dire circumstances the colonials were able to defeat 1500 better trained and better equipped Hessian soldiers entrenched at Trenton. It was a miraculous victory; one badly needed by the demoralized colonial army which had lost EVERY battle in the previous  five months and had been driven west from Long Island to Westchester and across both the Hudson and Delaware rivers to Pennsylvania. 


What most people may not realize is that as pivotal as that battle was to the history of our nation, there was an event of almost equal importance that happened in the next nine days which would test the commitment and courage of those who fought for our independence. In his book David Hackett Fischer reports that because of the events in the previous five months, “George Washington’s Army had lost 90 percent of its strength. Many of the remaining troops intended to go home when their enlistments expired at the end of the year” and his enemy knew it.  The revolution seemed to be hanging by a thread especially as Washington prepared for what would most certainly be a massive counter attack from the British at Trenton (which proved to be true a week later).  After staying off the attack the colonials at Trenton withdrew back to Pennsylvania. The men were worn out. Many were ill and most were suffering from the effects of the harsh winter (sickness, disease, frozen face, frostbitten limbs and foot lacerations).  They were utterly exhausted.  Washington now faced one of his most difficult challenges. It was late December and the enlistments of many of his troops would expire on December 31. Some of his best regiments seemed most determined to depart. “If Washington hoped to remain in the field, he had to persuade some of his veterans to stay with him. He mustered the New England regiments and begged them to serve for another six weeks. A sergeant remembered that the general “personally addressed us” and told us our services were greatly needed, and that we could do more for our country than we ever could do at any future date and in the most affectionate manner entreated us to stay.”  Not a man turned out. Washington wheeled his horse about rode in front of the regiment and spoke to them again. Long afterward, a sergeant still remembered his words:


“My brave fellows, you have done all I asked you to do, and more than could be reasonably expected; but your country is at stake, your wives, your houses, and all that your hold dear. You have worn yourselves out with the fatigues and hardships, but we know not how to spare you. If you will consent to stay one month longer; you will render that service to the cause of liberty, and to your country, which you probably can never do under any other circumstances. The drums rolled again …… the soldiers felt the force of the appeal and began to talk among themselves. One said, “I will remain if you will, “another said, “We cannot go home under such circumstances.” A few men stepped forward, then several others, then many more, and “their example was followed by nearly all who were fit for duty in the regiment.” An officer asked the general if the men should be enrolled, “No,” said Washington, “men who will volunteer in such a case as this need no enrollment to keep them in their duty.”


So moved by what he say John Howland wrote, “This was the time that tried both soul and body. We were standing on frozen round covered with snow. The hope of the commander-in-chief was sustained by the character of these half frozen, half-starved men that he could persuade them to volunteer for another month. He made the attempt, and it succeeded.”


These were veterans who understood what they were being asked to do. They knew well what the cost might be. One of them remembered later that nearly half of all the men who stepped forward would be killed in the fighting or dead of disease “Soon after.”


Like them all of you are volunteers who serve because of your dedication to the nation. I am proud to serve with all of you and I am grateful for the sacrifices you and your families make.


Enjoy the day tomorrow, be with family and friends and enjoy whatever traditions you may have. Fly the flag and take a moment to reflect on the blessing it is to live in this great country. Remember the sacrifice of those who won our freedom and established our constitution which we have all sworn to defend.