Monday, which many people had off from work as their Independence Day holiday, VFW Boswell A. Johnson Post 10825 staged an open-air public reading of the Declaration of Independence and a flag-folding ceremony around the flagpole in front of the Bulloch County Judicial Annex.
About 30 people attended, but that was more than last year when fewer than 10 of the local Veterans of Foreign Wars post's own members met across the block in front of the historic courthouse. They intend to keep having this event annually to remind people of the origins of Independence Day and what was at stake when the Declaration was written and signed in 1776.
"Today's world being the way it is, we believe that if we talk about the Declaration of Independence and read it, maybe people will get an understanding of why we became the country we became. ...," said VFW Post 10825 Commander Mike Cox. "A bunch of men got together and decided they wanted to break off from England. For those of you who don't know, well, they put their lives of the line."
From historical accounts he has read, he thinks one of the worst things that could have happened to the American patriots who signed the Declaration was that the British or loyalists could have tarred and feathered them, he added.
"The nicest thing they could have done to them would have been to have hung them or shot them, so that's what they were looking at the day they signed this," said Cox, an Army veteran of Operation Desert Storm and Somalia.
In an introduction for the reading, Post 10825 Senior Vice Commander John Kitchens noted that the Declaration was debated and adopted by the Second Continental Congress in June and July 1776 and that its authors included Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Roger Sherman and Robert R. Livingston. It was eventually signed by 56 delegates.
'We mutually pledge'
Kitchens noted that the Declaration of Independence has four traditionally recognized sections, which were then read aloud by other veterans from the local VFW.
David Kaiser recited the Preamble. After a title, it begins, "When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another..."
Justin Williams spoke the Declaration of Rights, beginning "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness... ."
Dean Rakoskie read the "Bill of Indictment" section, which charged King George III with a list of grievances committed by himself and his appointed governors, agents and military forces in denying self-governance and basic rights to the American colonies, which became the 13 original states, and waging war against them.
Larry Shatteen delivered the final section, the Statement of Independence, concluding "And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor."
A 'birth certificate'
Rakoskie, a past Post 10825 and VFW district commander who now holds the state VFW office of judge advocate, called the Declaration the longest "birth certificate" he has ever read.
"And I didn't realize it was a birth certificate until we were pulling this togeher, but it is every bit as powerful today as I envision it was 245 years ago when it was written," he said. "It led to the establishment of a nation, an imperfect nation based on fundamental principles that all human beings are created equal and that they have inherent dignity that no one should be allowed to deny or attempt to suppress."
The answer to whether the question of whether the America of today fully reflects the founders' vision has to be "not yet," Rakoskie said. But the freedoms that stem from other documents that followed, including the Constitution and its Bill of Rights, the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 and the 19th Amendment recognizing women's right to vote in 1920, other constitutional amendments and the Civil Rights Act of 1964, leave Americans evolving toward that vision, he said.
Other elements of Monday's service included a prayer and a recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance in the way the VFW does it, with a pause between "I ..." and "pledge allegiance" as for the insertion of one's name, making it a personal commitment.
Cox and Kitchens then conducted a ceremonial folding of the flag of the United States, beginning with lengthwise folds and concluding as a triangle with only the blue field and white stars showing. Other veterans recited a symbolic meaning accorded each fold.
Local VFW members were joined by their District 6 Commander Dee Adams, from Hawkinsville, members of American Legion Dexter Allen Post 90 and officers of the Bulloch County Sheriff's Office at Monday's ceremony.