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 people of many faiths, Americans recognize that the right to freedom and the authority of legitimate government come from their Creator. Faith in God has sustained Americans in uniform through some of the bloodiest conflicts in history.
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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. When American independence was won, Washington took off his uniform and laid down command of his troops. He sternly rebuked those who urged him to impose a military dictatorship and warned the army not to open the floodgates of civil discord.
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 grew, immigrants of many faiths, including Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and others, made important contributions to American life. The faith and tolerance of the American military are 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.
Like the heroes before them, today a new generation of men and women are fighting for freedom around the globe, said President George W. Bush. Their determination, courage, and sacrifice, he said, are laying the foundation for a more secure and peaceful world.