Basic Camp

Reflections on American Tradition as Fort Knox Celebrates Independence Day 2015

By Mariyah Wojcik

Fireworks light up the sky over Brooks Field at the Fort Knox 4th of July celebration. U.S. Army Photo by Mariyah Wojcik.

FORT KNOX, KENTUCKY (July 4, 2015) – Waving proudly over Brooks Field on this 239th Independence Day, the colors of the United States of America represent for many the history of this great nation. Cadets emerging from the field received a day of relaxation to celebrate our country’s illustrious past and bright future.

Through years of change, not unlike the changes that Fort Knox has undergone in recent times, the idea of how we as citizens should celebrate Independence Day has shifted and molded to the ideals of newer generations, and what it really means to be an American is becoming more inclusive with each passing day.

The collection of American traditions- our flag, national anthem, Pledge of Allegiance, even our nation’s birthday- that are held near and dear to the hearts of those participating in these annual festivities are not as cohesive, and even traditionally American, as they appear to be.

The actual birthdate of the United States is often coupled with the 4th of July. Our nation as it stands today was created by the adoption of the Constitution on September 17, 1787, making this the “official birthday” of our nation. So while the collection of colonies that would become the first states of the new nation have been declared independent from British rule for 239 years, our government system, the very backbone of what it means to be a nation, is only 228 years of age. The 4th of July or Independence Day seems to have a nicer ring to it than a Constitution Day without fireworks or fanfare.

Cadets pose for a photo at the 4th of July celebration on Fort Knox. U.S. Army Photo by Jenny Hale.

In those 228 years, the United States has acquired a flag, pledge, and national anthem, all of which have twisted paths to their current position in American culture today.

The flag, with all of its folklore about Betsy Ross’ sewing skills and its prominence in the revolution, was actually only used extensively beginning with the War of 1812. The flag was used to differentiate ships and forts during the Revolutionary War, and had very minimal civilian adoption and reverence.

The national anthem was written by lawyer and amateur poet Francis Scott Key the morning after the bombardment of Fort McHenry by the British during the War of 1812. Only the first verse was written on site, with the rest drafted in Baltimore. Indeed, the poem was set to the tune of a British drinking song popularized by an 18th century gentleman’s club, and only the first stanza was utilized, completing the transformation. The Star Spangled Banner is also a relative newcomer in terms of federal adoption, with Congress approving its use in 1931.

Last, but not least, our Pledge of Allegiance also has an interesting tale to tell. The original was written by a minister in 1892, who intended to use the pledge at an unofficial Columbus Day celebration- Columbus Day was not an official federal holiday until 1937- where school children would recite it. It was not until 1954 that the words “under God” were added during the Cold War era. It took an act of Congress, not the ordained minister that wrote the oath, to require that these words be uttered by all.

Clearly, many symbols of American pride and history are not what they appear to be at first glance, and neither is the Army of today. Critics have stated that there is a lack of diversity among its ranks, especially among officers, but looking at the future Army officers gathered at Brooks Field, this statement could not be farther from the truth.

The cadets that are stepping up to the challenge of Cadet Summer Training (CST) 2015 are unique in their ability to both demonstrate the challenges that face the military today, as well as the excellence in training and character that the Army prides itself on.

Cadet Lonnie Bissmeyer, from Youngstown State University, meets Commanding General Peggy Combs during Fort Knox’s 4th of July celebration. U.S. Army Photo by Jenny Hale.

It is in the stories of these cadets that the true patriotism and American tradition are found.

“The 4th of July means a lot to me,” said Cadet Michelle Nguyen of the University of San Diego. “40 years ago today, my family, on my dad’s side, made it from the end of the Vietnam War and came to Arkansas at Fort Chaffee. So we call it our “family day” or America’s birthday because it commemorates our being Americans. So the 4th of July is very important to us. Being in ROTC, I want to give back to the community who has accepted my family after such tragic events.”

Cadet Kelvin Ríos Pérez was born and raised in Puerto Rico and attends the University of Puerto Rico. Speaking modest English, he delivered a shout-out to his family and friends back home in Spanish.

“In Puerto Rico we really don’t celebrate the 4th of July in a direct form,” said Pérez. “We go to the beach or have barbecues. It’s about spending time with family.”

From a background of recent family immigration in wartime, to those who are the first in their families to step foot on mainland U.S. soil, to those that have been raised in small town America, the values of family bonding emanate throughout all conversations here at Fort Knox.

Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Bolwell kisses his daughter, Greenly, at Fort Knox’s 4th of July celebration. U.S. Army Photo by Jenny Hale.

“The 4th of July means to me that I will never leave a fallen comrade,” said Cadet Koty Mann of St. Bonaventure University in New York. “That honor, that morale, that is what it means to me.”

Tributes to loved ones go hand-in-hand with Army pride and brotherhood. The symbols of America, no matter their origin, bind each and every one of us together at the joyous occasion of our nation’s independence.

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Mariyah Wojcik

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