Bonner Day: Patriotism has a long history in valley

Bonner Day

The Fourth of July is a day for celebration. On this day, America is the strongest military power in the world, with the strongest economy.

People risk death and prison to come here. They pay thousands of dollars and lie to U.S. officials to get here. Nowhere else are people so anxious to come. If love of country is the definition of patriotism, we are the most patriotic county in the world. And there is a huge waiting list of people eager to enjoy our country’s bounty.

But if our forefathers have built a nation that is the envy of the world, that was not always the case.

The year 1777 was a low point in America’s history. That year patriotism meant risking life and fortune.

People were not stealing across the borders. Many American citizens either pledged their allegiance to Britain or fled to Canada. And most of Europe held us at arm’s length. How could we be a nation, they said. We didn’t even have a king, or the blue bloods from whom to create one.

In 1777 war raged throughout the 13 colonies. Large parts of the country were held by British and Hessian soldiers. In that year there were just as many Americans fighting against the Continental government as there were pledged to it. Benjamin Franklin was a diplomat of the new government, but his son remained a loyal subject of King George.

This low point was a severe test of patriotism. Americans had lost New York City and Philadelphia with heavy loss of life. Though the Colonials had scored a few victories – Bunker Hill, Saratoga, Trenton – the British forces continued to advance on every front.

The fall to rock bottom accelerated on Sept. 11, with Washington’s army forming at Brandywine Creek in Pennsylvania. Outnumbered 2 to 1, the Continentals fought the British until dusk. When Washington withdrew his heavily depleted force, he exposed Philadelphia to invasion. Congress was given barely enough warning to flee by horseback to York, 75 miles away.

With Washington was Gen. John Peter Muhlenberg, the Lutheran pastor from Woodstock, who was commanding the Virginia Line Brigade. When Muhlenberg resigned from his church, he brought 300 volunteers to join the 8th Virginia Regiment.

Trying to surprise the British at Germantown, Washington suffered another major defeat, losing 1,000 men to the loss of 500 by the British. The Americans later fought the British for control of the Delaware River, but were forced to withdraw, after again suffering heavy losses.

Washington then took his troops into winter quarters. He wanted to spread them throughout Pennsylvania to make foraging easier. But Congress, afraid of the menacing British forces, forced the Continentals to stay in a single body. They retreated to Valley Forge.

Valley Forge, where Congress could not feed and clothe the army it raised. Valley Forge, where 2,500 soldiers died of disease and starvation. Valley Forge, where thousands more fled for their homes to survive. The Marquis de Lafayette, who lived with the survivors, said, “No European army would suffer the tenth part of what the Americans suffer.”

It was not until the following spring that word reached North America that France was coming to the assistance of the beleaguered Americans. With French support, the Continentals could face the British with something closer to an equal force. Victory was not assured. But compared to the dark days of Valley Forge there was hope enough to fill every patriotic American heart.

Today that nation is a beacon for millions searching for prosperity, jobs, education and other social benefits. The government admits a million legal immigrants a year. It commands a border police force bigger than the Continental Army. And that police force cannot keep millions more from coming in illegally.

Today’s new arrivals have a challenge should they wish to abandon their former ties and match the patriotism of Gen. Muhlenberg and the 300 Virginians he led to war 240 years ago.

Bonner Day has lived in the valley for 14 years. He raises cattle and dandelions with mixed results.