It has been some 234 years since the Second Continental Congress on July 4, 1776, drew up the document called the Declaration of Independence.
The worst was yet to come when our fledgling nation found itself at war with the mother country, England. The patriots of that day desired freedom so much they endured every sacrifice necessary to accomplish their mission.
Ironically, it had been in England where the first fight for freedom had occurred when the barons of that nation brought King John to heel at Runnymede in 1215 and forced him to sign the document called Magna Charta, which granted certain rights to the English people.
But our guys (namely Patrick Henry, Samuel Adams, Ben Franklin, George Washington and others displaying that same patriotic intensity) knew they wanted not only a piece of Magna Charta, but independence as well. History has recorded their determination to succeed no matter what.
The patriots of that day not only formed a new nation, but they established the most non-regimented country in the world. The Bill of Rights, as the first 10 amendments to the Constitution, safeguarded the fundamental rights of the people, thus preventing the government from interfering with those rights. As we do annually, we recently observed our Independence Day. Once again, we enjoyed the freedoms assured by the actions of those patriots so many years ago.
There have been those who challenge our freedom. Some might envy our way of life, and we have crazies who believe the rest of humanity exists only to serve the Caesars, Hitlers, Stalins and that ilk.
Because those sadists threatened our way of life, it became necessary for us and the British to fight two devastating wars. Arris Johnson recently listed the tremendous cost in lives and treasure to stop tyrants such as Adolf Hitler, who stated if he won the war, Germany would dominate for the next 1,000 years.
When the delegates from the colonies drew up the Constitution, a lady asked Ben Franklin, "And what kind of government did you get us, Mr. Franklin?" to which he replied "A republic, Madam, if you can keep it."
Well, we have kept it all these years. I believe there can be no doubt that we intend to keep it that way, given the manner in which we responded to the Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor. It might sound trite, but that bombing by the Japanese brought the American people together almost overnight because of patriotism and loyalty. We immediately realized this was a war we had to fight to prevent Hitler's dream from becoming a reality.
Speaking of patriotism and loyalty, I saw them at their best during World War II. At the risk of repeating some thing I might have mentioned in the past, I served nearly four years with the 3rd Infantry Division. Two hundred and 20 of us formed up the company in 1942 at Fort Lewis, Wash.
We fought the Germans from North Africa to Germany. When the war ended in 1945, we were told there were 19 of us left. Of the five of us who "buddied-up" over those years, I was the only one still going when it ended.
The editor of our news sheet, who was probably so far back a bomber couldn't reach him, decided to call us the "tough Kraut killers." We resented this -- didn't think it was at all appropriate.
When my best friend was killed on the Anzio beachhead, I about cried my eyes out. I was a real "tough Kraut killer." And then I proceeded to curse every politician in Washington who had neglected to prepare us for war when it was obvious it was coming as much as several years before.
I mention these events because I never heard one soldier complain about the hardships of war, notwithstanding the fact that we were in harm's way 24 hours day after day for a period that stretched into two and a half years. Soon, one began wondering if there was any other kind of life out there.
From the reports we received, we knew the folks on the home front were doing their share; they played just as great a part in winning the war as we did, only in a different way. We were told it took 17 people in logistics to keep me firing my rifle. So, despite being such an ethnically diverse population, we came together and did everything necessary to win the war.
I would like to think if my friends who didn't make it home could speak, they would say we did the right thing by waging all out war to protect our country even though we did so at a terrible cost.
We, who were fortunate to survive, had a reason to hope there would be no more war because of the horrendous cost to the entire world.
But a course of hostile events since 1945 have proved us wrong. We are engaged in guerrilla fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq. In most cases guerrilla fighting never ends unless the guerrillas end it. Those hotshots in Washington choose to call it a war. They don't know the difference.
Regardless of what it's called, our men and women in those countries are still dying and for what? They are doing a good job because of their patriotism and loyalty, and they deserve our support. We should never have been there; we need to bring our young people home and let those countries fight their own battles.
On rare occasions, we have used poor judgment in administration of the Bill of Rights and the Constitution. After the attack on Pearl Harbor we panicked and imagined a Japanese spy to be under every tumbleweed. President Roosevelt, in the worst executive order he ever issued, mandated that all people of the Japanese race living in the United States be incarcerated for the duration of the war.
Most of these people were American citizens who were gainfully employed or owned businesses. They were relegated to camps that amounted to nothing more than concentration camps. Their property was confiscated, which I understand was never returned to them after the war.
Even after they were moved to those new "quarters," the younger Japanese volunteered for military service. They formed a battalion that fought with distinction in our Army in Italy against the Germans.
Those of us who served in the military during World War II and had grown up in the German community in Rush County wondered if we should have been imprisoned, since we were at war with Germany.
When our Founding Fathers desired freedom and independence, they took up arms and fought for it, knowing some were going to die. The Constitution they drew up as a result of their efforts has protected us from governmental conspiracy these many years.
We have nuts who burn our flag and the Fred Phelpses who desecrate the funerals of our servicemen and women. Even they are protected from retribution when they abuse the Constitution.
Simply put, like those who came before us, we have met and defeated each challenge to our independence and freedom. I have great confidence that we will continue to do so with a word of caution: At first blush it would seem to me that Washington has become a hotbed of politicians and lobbyists. True, we have a surplus of both, but we still have the polling booth.
I am confident the American people will continue to keep it "a government of the people, by the people, and for the people." But, it would behoove us to heed the old adage, "When the camel gets his nose under the tent flap, it is time to tighten the guy ropes and deepen the stakes."
It is a worry the federal judiciary, legislative, and administrative bodies are encroaching on each others' duties and responsibilities. This bears watching. But, as the saying goes, "We shall overcome."
Carl Schlegel lives in Hays with his wife, Darlene. They both grew up in Otis. He worked 40 years for the Bureau of Mines managing a helium plant; Darlene worked as a nurse at Cimarron Memorial hospital. They moved to Hays after retirement to live with "Unser Leute" and say they are happy to be back "home" again.