“These are the times that try men’s souls.” Many of us are familiar with that famous opening of Thomas Paine’s treatise The Crisis, written in defense of the fledgling American Revolution. Few may be as familiar with a later passage: “I love the man that can smile in trouble, that can gather strength from distress, and grow brave by reflection. … [H]e whose heart is firm, and whose conscience approves his conduct, will pursue his principles unto death.”
Paine knew first-hand about those who could gather strength from distress. He marched with General George Washington and his men as they suffered unbroken defeat across much of New Jersey in 1776. He felt, first-hand, their lack of supplies needed to wage war or even subsist. Yet he witnessed many who pursued the cause of liberty unto death.
I have had the honor of meeting hundreds of service members serving in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. Their task is difficult. They and their comrades undertake dangerous missions, and endure physical hardships and separation from their families. Yet they remain firm at heart. Their bravery is beyond measure. Today’s young patriots carry the same determination Paine must have seen in their predecessors over two centuries ago.
The American people, as one, are deeply grateful for the service and sacrifice of men and women in uniform and their families, and for their unshrinking commitment to pursuing the principles of our nation. As we pause this Armed Forces Day to reflect on their service, I hope that each one of us will find a way to show them, as Paine encouraged in his treatise, “the love and thanks” of a nation.