The young Marine looked me in the eye, as he waited for my reply. I was at a loss for words. He had just told me he had done one tour of duty in Iraq and hoped he didn't have to do another. Finally, all I could utter back was that I hoped, too, he didn't have to go back. He nodded in acknowledgment and went on his way.
I have often thought of the young Marine and that day at Camp Pendleton Marine Base near San Diego. My rugby team was down there that Saturday to play the Marine team, comprised of Marines from Pendleton and 29 Palms with some Navy corpsman from San Diego on their team. Today, they are not playing rugby, they are fighting the enemy in Iraq. By decree of the president, they have ceased being boys playing in the spring and they are men striving to stay alive in the heat of summer.
One historian has compared the birth of our nation as the greatest event in history. We are the wealthiest and strongest nation in the history of the world and we do this by respecting the rights of the individual or, at least, we make a valiant attempt to do so. Whether you are an indigent American or imprisoned terrorist, we Americans try to give you your day in court, as evidenced by a recent decision of the U.S. Supreme Court.
By the way, unfortunately, we have reached a milestone as far as the war in Iraq and Afghanistan is concerned: 500 Californians have died in the conflicts over there. This is not a milestone to gloat about. Every one of those men and women, young and old, regular military, reserve or National Guard, had someone who cared about them and now who grieve for them.
The Defense Department used to issue certificates signed by the President of the United States to the families of deceased military. It read something like that the soldiers belong to an unbroken line of patriots who died so that freedom might live and whose undertakings humble most men.
Let's remember our fallen on the Fourth of July with a toast, a cheer, and a prayer. Freedom lives because of them.
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