November 11th is Veterans Day -- a time when Americans honor those who have served in the U.S. armed forces in peace and war. From its formation in 1775, the American military has reflected the principles and beliefs of the American people. A religious people of many faiths, Americans recognize that the right to freedom and the authority of legitimate government come from God. Faith in God has sustained Americans in uniform through some of the bloodiest conflicts in history.
On July 2nd, 1776, General George Washington told American troops fighting for their country's independence that, “The fate of unborn millions will now depend, under God, on the courage of this army. Our cruel and unrelenting enemy,” he said, “leaves us only the choice of brave resistance or the most abject submission.”
Washington's army was made up largely of Protestants of many denominations. But Roman Catholics and Jews also served as officers and enlisted men. Washington strictly forbade religious discrimination and intolerance in the American military. He reprimanded Protestant soldiers for celebrating an anti-Catholic holiday long observed in England, saying such behavior had no place in an army fighting for freedom.
As America has grown, immigrants of many faiths, including Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and others, have made important contributions to American life. And as it promotes liberty and justice in Afghanistan, Iraq, and other places abroad, says President George W. Bush, the U.S. must continue to honor those values at home: “America rejects all forms of ethnic and religious bigotry. We welcome the values of every responsible citizen, no matter the land of their birth. And we will always protect the most basic human freedom -- the freedom to worship God without fear.”
The faith and tolerance of the American military is exemplified by the story of four chaplains -- two Protestant ministers, a Roman Catholic priest, and a Jewish rabbi. They were serving with American troops bound for Europe during the Second World War. On February 3rd, 1943, their ship was torpedoed and quickly sank. The chaplains gave up their life preservers to men who had none. All four were last seen on the deck of the sinking ship, holding hands in prayer. Such are those whom Americans honor today.