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by Bob Knutson, RMC, USN, (Ret.)

They come from the farms, the plains, the river bottoms, the great cities and some from mountain towns "small enough to be sent for by mail".

From the windswept, rocky shores of Maine to the sun-washed beaches of California. The humidity of south Florida to the arid climes of Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. From the Gulf coast and the land of 10,000 lakes. North, South, East and West and all points in between. From all across the broad sweep of America, they bid their farewells to family and friends and begin what may be the greatest adventure of their lives.

Why? Why do these young men and women, aglow with the flush of emerging adulthood, filled with the hope and promise of the future, abandon hearth and home to embark on a journey that could easily project them into eternity? 

The reasons are as varied as the colors of their hair and skins. The rangy Texan wants to sail the seven seas. The young black man from New York City dreams of being one of "The few, the Proud". A young Georgia belle wants to earn money for college to pursue her dream of becoming a doctor, She can get a head start by being a medical technician in the Air Force. The San Franciscan wishes to break away from his strict traditional Chinese background and "see the world". The list goes on and on. 

The one reason none of them will probably give is to "Serve their Country". Yet, that basic urge to serve is always there. These are not ordinary youth, looking for an easy life and instant gratification. These are the cream of America's young people, born to freedom, raised in an era of unbounded opportunity and nurtured on the tales of patriotism, courage and sacrifice that have always been the legacy of a free people. 

So, they gather in the training centers. They quickly learn to function as a unit, not as individuals. They develop an "Espirit de Corps" that sustains them. They become riflemen, seaman, technicians, soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines. 

A few fail. That is the human condition. Most do their three or four year hitch and move on to follow their dreams elsewhere. Some find a "Home" in the service and go on to become SEALS, Rangers, Green Berets, Top Sargeants, Chiefs. A very select few even rise to command. All those who stay become teachers, passing the benefit of their experience and training on to the younger people coming behind them.

Do they become wealthy? Not so anyone could notice. Do they find glory? Rarely. Do they become world leaders. The fingers of one hand would be enough to count those who have done so. DO THEY SERVE THEIR COUNTRY? In more ways than I could begin to list here.

They do not pledge "Their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor" as did those who signed the Declaration of Independence. Even so, they are out there every day, giving of their youth and talent to uphold the same ideals.

As we celebrate this 225th anniversary of our independence, take pride in the parades, enjoy the barbeques, thrill to the fireworks that light up the evening skies. While you're at it, though, take just a moment to remember these young Americans from all walks of life who defend and protect the spirit of liberty that was first proclaimed on July 4th, 1776.

Bob Knutson, RMC, USN, (Ret.)