“We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” The signatories to the Declaration of Independence may have had different creeds, but they understood that human dignity is not conferred by leaders or legislation — it is first and foremost the gift of a loving Creator. They also understood this vision is too often imperfectly lived in a sinful world. Nonetheless, they proclaimed and aspired to that foundational truth. They sought to embody it in a Constitution that “balanced” power and protected rights. Generations of Americans have worked and sacrificed to see that dignity is respected for every person. Our own generation, as imperfect as we may be, have inherited that sacred duty.
It is fitting that we commemorate our founding vision with family and community celebrations. I hope that those celebrations also acknowledge God. It is right to give thanks to God for the gift of liberty and those who have extended, defended and preserved it. It is right to pray for the peace and prosperity of our nation and to join in the prayer of Abraham Lincoln “that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
I am impressed that Rhode Islanders take these matters very seriously — nowhere more so than in beautiful Bristol. I am looking forward to participating in the Patriotic Exercises in Bristol, a community that has observed them with such dedication for so many generations.
As we prepare for the Fourth, I wonder if all of us are aware of another remarkable Rhode Island legacy. I recently toured the Navy Seabees Museum in Davisville. On the former naval base, the famous Quonset huts were first put into construction. As impressive as that adaptable building might be, I was more impressed by the work of the Seabees. Their “can do” attitude and ingenuity in building, repairing and maintaining has made them an essential building block of our nation’s defense. Beginning in the Second World War, they built harbors, roads and airfields wherever U.S. forces found themselves. They provided mess halls, medical facilities and living quarters. Wherever they built such necessary facilities, they also included a chapel.
On my visit to the museum, I met veterans of the Seabees who are volunteering to restore the former base chapel. They hope to offer a place of memory and prayer for the Seabees of the past and those who carry on the legacy today. It was great to meet these men and hear some of their tales of the challenges they faced in every imaginable circumstance all around the world. There was something about them that seemed quintessentially American. There were tasks that needed doing and these men stepped up. Together, they overcame every obstacle thrown at them with a mixture of luck, talent and passion for their mission — a mission on which so many lives depended. They clearly forged a brotherhood, and I could not avoid the impression that they had fun.
Those men remind me that the words and ideals of the American experiment are only part of the picture that we celebrate. America is her people. America may not be perfect, but she is beautiful! And if you want to see a piece of Rhode Island’s storied past and meet some of the great men who labor and build for love of country, pack a lunch and head to Davisville!