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Celebrating American Freedom Together This Summer

Celebrating American Freedom Together This Summer

By Governor Pete Ricketts

June 14, 2022

 

Governor’s official photo here

 

Two hundred forty-six years ago, our Founding Fathers bravely defied the most powerful nation on earth and put pen to paper to assert an eternal, self-evident truth: All men are created equal.  We are endowed by our Creator with inalienable rights that no government can justly take away.  This recognition is what makes our country so unique.  What unites us as Americans is neither religion, ancestry, nor language.  Rather, it’s our shared commitment to the truth of equal human dignity.  Every Independence Day, we honor the men and women who started the great American experiment all those years ago.  And we celebrate the triumph of the principles we hold dear.  America is at its best when we honor our founding principles; our greatest suffering and division have come from neglecting them.

 

In addition to celebrating Independence Day, this summer is a time to rejoice in the “new birth of freedom” that President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed during his Gettysburg Address in 1863.  In that famous speech, he looked forward to an American Republic no longer stained by slavery, with renewed “dedication to the proposition that all men are created equal.”  Seventeen months after his speech, the Union Army won the war, bringing slavery to an end.

 

On June 19, 1865, news of the Emancipation Proclamation and the North’s victory in the Civil War reached Galveston, Texas, sparking celebrations as enslaved Americans received word of their freedom.  Juneteenth commemorates this day of joy and the end of slavery.

 

It's a day we should all celebrate.  Slavery is the gravest blight on our nation’s history.  Its existence was completely contrary to our cornerstone belief that all men are created equal.

 

As Frederick Douglass reminded Americans, “The principles contained in the Declaration of Independence are saving principles.  Stand by those principles, be true to them on all occasions, in all places, against all foes, and at whatever cost.”

 

Since before we became a state, Nebraskans have bravely sacrificed to uphold our nation’s founding principle of equality.  The First Nebraska Regiment fought valiantly in the Union Army during the Civil War, helping to win a major battle at Fort Donelson, Tennessee in 1862.  These volunteer soldiers helped the North triumph over the Confederacy and put an end to slavery.

 

Our state’s courageous patriots include generations of Black Nebraskans, who have given their lives to protect our country and its noblest ideals.  Alfonza Davis of Omaha was a Tuskegee Airman in World War II.  He served as a military aviator, protecting American bombers and striking Nazi targets across Europe.  He made the ultimate sacrifice in October 1944 while flying over Italy.  Davis Middle School in Omaha is named in his honor. 

 

Petty Officer 1st Class Charles Jackson French, an Omaha resident, served in the U.S. Navy during World War II.  He was aboard the USS Gregory when it was sunk by Japanese ships during the Battle of Guadalcanal in 1942.  French ended up in the water, unhurt.  He swam among the wreckage, helping 15 wounded U.S. sailors onto a raft.  With the tide pulling the raft toward a shore occupied by Japanese troops, French tied a rope to his waist and personally towed the raft out to sea.  In a feat of heroic endurance, he swam more than six hours until the sailors were rescued.  To recognize him, Congress recently passed legislation sponsored by Nebraska Representative Don Bacon (CD-2) to rename the post office at 6223 Maple Street in Omaha’s Benson neighborhood as the “Petty Officer 1st Class Charles Jackson French Post Office.”

 

In the Vietnam War, Black Nebraskans served with distinction.  James Prater received a Bronze Star in 1966.  Blaine Wilson was awarded with the Air Force Commendation Medal in 1967.  Omaha Central grad Milton Ross made the ultimate sacrifice in 1969 at the age of 20, only one month after entering service.  He was honored with a Bronze Star and Purple Heart.  Porter Pittman spent 26 months in Vietnam and was awarded a Purple Heart.  Maurice Craddock was a decorated serviceman, receiving a National Defense Air Medal, Vietnam Service Medal, and Purple Heart.  In the midst of the civil rights tensions of the 1960s, these young Black men from Omaha courageously heeded the call of duty to serve their country.

 

Staff Sergeant Lillian Clamens joined the U.S. Army Reserve after graduating from Omaha Central in 1990.  During a mortar attack in Iraq in 2007, she sacrificed her life to shield a fellow soldier from harm.  In March, the City of Omaha renamed a street in memory of her.

 

This summer, let’s give thanks for our nation’s founding principles as we light off fireworks on the Fourth of July.  On Juneteenth, let’s celebrate the triumph of our founding truths over slavery.  Let’s also honor the many Black heroes throughout our history who have fought so these principles could endure. 

 

As always, if you have any questions, please email me at pete.ricketts@nebraska.gov or call 402-471-2244.

 

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