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On Independence Day, we celebrate the core values of freedom and liberty which define our identity as Americans – and we remember those brave individuals who fought to protect and promote freedom around the world.
One particular Independence Day – July 4, 1981 – stands out for me as a prime example of how America and her ideals serve as a beacon of hope for all mankind.
I was a Special Forces Captain leading a team of non-commissioned officers in the middle of the civil war in El Salvador. We were the first to deploy to train the Salvadoran military on how to become a professional armed forces organization – responsive to what we hoped would soon be a democratically-elected government. It was a grotesque conflict with atrocities committed by all sides. We were often caught in the middle.
As we did every morning, my team and I were reviewing our daily plans for training and instructing our Salvadoran counterparts. But when I spoke with the Salvadoran battalion colonel I learned that there would be no training that day. I was immediately concerned, as we were under intense pressure to get this unit through our program. But what that foreign Lieutenant Colonel said, and later did, made me proud to be a Green Beret and an American citizen.
He asked me, “Is today is your Independence Day?”
“Si, Senor,” I replied.
“Then we all must celebrate. The United States is a shining example of freedom for the rest of the world, and it is only right and proper that you, and we, honor this momentous anniversary. In fact, I have arranged for a special dinner this evening – to commemorate the day America began its pursuit of freedom.”
The Lieutenant Colonel was true to his word, throwing a small, but emotionally significant party for us early that evening. He gave a moving and powerful speech about the spirit of the United States and the values which are central to our way of life. He noted that our own belief in freedom and democracy were so ingrained in our society that we had sent some of our best soldiers thousands of miles from their home to pursue freedom in El Salvador.
He swore that one day his country too, would be an example of freedom and liberty. And although he didn’t live to see the end of the war, his promise was eventually fulfilled. El Salvador has a new government which has incorporated many of the democratic processes and rights championed by the United States. Like our own, this government is far from perfect, but it always has hope for the future.
Hope, which is instinctive in the United States, but was spread by the 7th Special Forces Group and our counterparts in the Salvadorian military.
So on Independence Day, we should remember those brave men and woman who proudly served America and defended Freedom. There are even countless organizations – such as the Green Beret Foundation – which work year-round to honor and care for our military members who sacrificed to protect our treasured liberties.
Let us also celebrate America’s position as a global symbol of optimism and opportunity. And let us recognize those individuals, like the Salvadorian Lieutenant Colonel, who are inspired by America’s independence and fight to bring freedom to places that have never seen it.
Major General (Ret.) David A. Morris is the chairman of the Green Beret Foundation, a 501(c)(3) organization that provides immediate financial assistance to Green Berets who are injured in the line of duty, to their families, and to the families of our fallen brothers. Gen. Morris served for over 36 years of active and reserve duty, with multiple deployments in Latin America and the Middle East. He is a highly decorated veteran of the Global War on Terror, having served in various capacities in Operations Desert Storm, Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom, and as a civilian in several roles within the intelligence community.