I left Vietnam in 1971 and took a job at Marine Barracks in Washington, D.C. I hated the spit and polish of being an administrative officer at the prestigious post, so it didn't take long to ruffle the feathers of my superiors. I found no joy in presiding over summary court martials. I liked the smell of gunpowder and volunteered to return to Vietnam, but those days were over.
In order to relieve the doldrums of barracks life, every weekend I'd drive 2½ hours to Valley Forge to volunteer as a docent. I taught the scheme of drill, tactics, and the spirit of the bayonet that General Von Steuben perfected on the grand parade grounds at Valley Forge in 1778. He turned a rag-tag militia into an army. There, on May 6, Von Steuben presented his creation to General George Washington.
The tour buses would drive to the parade grounds. There, I would meet the visitors adjacent to Von Steuben's statue. My initial remarks were typically along these lines: “If you want to understand the miracle of the revolution, you must know who George Washington was and what he did at Valley Forge.”
Washington believed in a destiny guided by Providence. With soldiers who could survive the perils of Valley Forge, he promised that victory and freedom were imminent. He held the Continental Army together against insurmountable odds, ensuring the promise of freedom for future generations.
Washington was not born a hero; he was a simple man with immovable principles. He assumed the responsibility for the success of a burgeoning movement, facing unprecedented challenges difficult for us to imagine. In 1777 he led his beleaguered soldiers into winter quarters at Valley Forge. Washington, his army and the future of America were on the ropes.
Since my days as a docent I've left no stone unturned in delving into the fascination of who this man was. His birthday was on Feb. 22, so of course I had to write something about the general.
To commemorate his birthday, I read “Being George Washington,” by Glenn Beck. Beck cites an accounting by an unnamed Indian chief in a fight between Washington's forces and the French and Indians. The fight took place on the Ohio frontier in 1755.
“Our rifles were leveled at him.... 'Twas all in vain, a power mightier than we shielded him from harm,” Beck quotes the unnamed chief. “He cannot die in battle. A spirit protects him and guides his destinies. He will become the chief of nations, and people yet unborn will hail him as a founder of a mighty empire.”
There George Washington came into his own as an inspirational leader of men.
After the battle, Washington's uniform was riddled with bullet holes, and two horses had been shot out from under him. He believed a divine hand had guided him. Throughout the revolution, the general kept his army within arm's reach of the mightiest legions in the world. He dodged defeat and annihilation with serendipitous tactics, assuring that he would fight another day. When he needed a victory, he sneaked across the frozen Delaware in the middle of the night and defeated the Hessians at Trenton. On the Pennsylvania side of the river a note was found in his headquarters. “Victory or death,” it read.
In 1781, on a hunch, Washington secretly moved his forces south, toward Yorktown, Va. The British fleet failed to sail from New York to reinforce Cornwallis. The French fleet slipped into Chesapeake Bay and blocked a British retreat. Washington attacked. The war was over. We had won our independence.
Washington was a simple man who although flawed, accomplished extraordinary things. Beck says his greatest accomplishment was the man that he created in the process. Beck challenges his readers to be George Washington and follow a principled life, and thus be the caretakers of the freedom he earned for us.
Happy birthday, General.