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July 4, 2011

Happy birthday USA; Rekindled faith in youth; Top 3 Greatest Americans

Happy Birthday America. It's been a hard 235 years and those familiar with our nation's history will know what I'm talking about. There were so many times during the fight for our country where the outcome rested on a single event that, had it not happened, would have changed the course for our country. I'm not just referring to the fight for our independence from Great Britain but all the fights we have endured throughout the last 2 centuries plus- the right to be our own country, the right to live how we please including what we say, what gods we pray to and how we choose to express our feelings and sentiments.

**WARNING - Debbie Downer paragraph**
At the risk of sounding cliche, Americans take these liberties for granted- they are so ingrained in our minds that we cannot comprehend an opposing culture that would kill a woman because she wasn't covering her face when we deem it appropriate to let our teenage daughters wear string bikini's. The unforeseeable germination of the freedoms penned into our Constitution, by some of the greatest thinkers in the world, is laid out before us today - a nation in debt, unemployment at sickening levels, what some would call a steady decline in morals and a fostering of entitlement that has pushed this country on the brink of collapse.

As usual, I digress and this post is more than just a history lesson, although and I encourage you pick up a book and read it for yourself. Hell, even Jon Stewart's America has some great insight, with his comical slants of course.

Two things got me thinking about the future of this country last night as I sat on the north shore of Lake Tahoe while waiting and watching a spectacular fireworks display with my family. A group of 7 teenagers had sat down behind us, very peppy and a little loud. At first I was annoyed but then I realized that they were actually very polite just having a good time. My younger children were with me and I just don't think they need to hear the f-bomb and the like just yet- they hear it at schoold, I'm sure, but dammit I don't want them hearing when I am around (even when it comes from my mouth).

 I was very surprised when 2 of the guys (followed by the rest) started signing the Star Spangled Banner- and knew all the words. They sang it twice that night and the second time my 8 year old son stood up and put his hand over his heart. When the teens started in with God Bless America, my son was singing along while simultaneously signing the words (while my wife simultaneously cried). I taught that boy well. When one of them apologized to us for singing so loudly behind us I told him I was 20 years prior military and that I loved that song. All of them immediately thanked me for my service.

I was only half listening when I heard one of them say, "That guy in front of us put in 20 years in the military." to which his friend replied with a clever reference to Gandalf from Lord of the Rings, "Yeah, dude is like, 'You shall not pass!'" Respect for their country, for their fellow man and for the men and women who served this nation. I wish they represented the majority of teens in this country, but I know that is a fairy tale.

While one of the guys was taking time to lecture his friends on the origins of our national anthem, one of them said that Francis Scott Key was a great American- to which the first replied Key was a Frenchman. The only error I had heard in their conversion, I politely told them that Key was in fact an American born in Maryland, and that there is a monument to him that I have visited in Baltimore. I started thinking not only about the Americans who, in the last 235 years, helped to shape this country and mold it into what it is today but also the definition of "great". regardless of Webster's definition, I would hold a great American by three standards:

  1. someone who, single-handedly, did something that forever shaped our country's future,
  2. their contribution would not have happened by any other hand and 
  3. whom without we would not be where we are today. 

I find it appropriate that George Washington, first president of the United States, is my number one. He is the Father of our country and without whom there would be no United States of America. How fitting that he be placed on the most used currency.

Abraham Lincoln is my number 2 as he was President during one of the most tumultuous times in our history- and he brought us back together as a nation.

Lastly, is Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for bringing equality to our nation.

That is my short list and of course there are many more out there but this is my top 3 that follow my criteria above. In closing, I wish everyone a safe and fun celebration of the birth of the greatest country the world has ever seen.

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