Commentary by Jeff Hunt, Director, Texas Military Department Museum
“These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country. But he that stands it now, deserves the thanks of man and women; for tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered. Yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. For that which we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly.”
Thomas Paine wrote those words in December of 1776, as the Continental Army – beaten, bleeding, cold, hungry and despairing – retreated before victorious British legions. Within the month, that army would turn and deliver devastating defeats to the English at Trenton and Princeton, and in so doing save the American Revolution and the nation it had created.
What Paine wrote in 1776 was a profound revelation. What he put into words is a truth that has endured since 1636, when what would become today’s National Guard was born at the first militia muster in the colony of Massachusetts: that America’s citizen soldiers have always been the bulwark of our freedom and our liberty.
In time of peace and in time of war, the men and women of the National Guard have stood watch over America and its freedom. They have allowed us to sleep secure in the knowledge that our homes and loved ones are protected from the ravages of nature or threats of evil men. Their vigil knows no weekends or holidays. It has been kept in raging storms, bitter cold and searing heat by those far away from home and the comforts they defend.
This is a truth often taken for granted. Yet those marching a lonely post or standing a midnight watch, do not complain or dissent. They serve because they see it as their privilege and duty. Because they recognize that the freedom America has won for herself and given to so much of the world, comes at the cost of their sacrifice. They willing put their bodies and their lives between America and its enemies, between our liberty and those who would steal it away.
And thus shall it ever be. The men and woman of the National Guard are the latest in a long and never-ending line of those willing to risk all for the things that make life worth living. To those who have gone before, who have fought and bled and died, for those who stand guard around the world today, and for those who will take their place in the decades to come, we owe a debt that can be repaid only in the appreciation and homage of a grateful people. Indeed, as Thomas Paine said in 1776: “He that stands it now, deserves the thanks of man and woman.” America will always remember and she shall never forget the sacrifice they make.