Remembering the stories of our heroes
By Rep. Bradley Byrne
For Americans from coast to coast, Independence Day is a celebration of our nation’s birthday with friends and family. The day also offers an opportunity for reflection.
In Washington, President Donald Trump held a “Salute to America” celebration on the National Mall in honor of our troops. The patriotic spectacle, featuring military bands, aircraft flyovers and fireworks, was highlighted by a speech in which Trump praised our “truly extraordinary heritage” and recounted our unique American story.
“It is the epic tale of a great nation whose people have risked everything for what they know is right and what they know is true,” he said. “It is the chronicle of great citizens who never give up on the dream of a better and brighter future and it is the saga of 13 separate colonies that united to form the most just and virtuous republic ever conceived.
“As long as we stay true to our course, as long as we remember our great history, as long as we never, ever stop fighting for a better future, then there will be nothing that America cannot do.”
His speech was given during an important time in our nation’s history. Growing threats overseas represent significant challenges to our sovereignty and increasing danger to our military men and women and citizens at home.
In the Middle East, we have seen an escalation of Iranian provocations that began with repeated attacks on oil tankers and led to the Iranians shooting down an American drone over international air space. The United States came close to retaliatory strikes in Iran.
Iran now boasts it will continue enriching uranium in pursuit of a nuclear weapon. This longstanding threat will not go away soon.
During a time of so much geopolitical turmoil, it’s important for us to, in Trump’s words, “remember our great heritage” of the men and women who fought and sacrificed so that this great American experiment can continue.
Like many of yours, my family has shared in this sacrifice.
On June 3, 1942, during World War II, my uncle Jack Langsdale, a merchant mariner, was stationed aboard the City of Alma as it was torpedoed by a German U-boat about 400 miles northeast of San Juan, Puerto Rico. The explosion ripped a 40-foot hole in the side of the vessel, and she sank within 3 minutes. The radio operator, who died on board, did not even get a chance to relay a message.
Of the 39 men on board the City of Alma that day, 29 lost their lives. Sadly, my uncle was among the dead. I never got the chance to know him.
I recently had the opportunity to talk about my uncle’s story to the Captain Richard Phillips Lane Kirkland Maritime Trust as we honored three World War II veterans in attendance. It was a special experience to thank these brave men for their role in securing our freedoms and to hear their stories of crossing the sea to fight for our country.
Captain Phillips himself knows the dangers our merchant mariners face on the high seas. In 2009, as the captain of the USS Maersk Alabama, Somali pirates boarded and commandeered his vessel. After several tense days of negotiations, escape attempts and dangerous confrontations, Navy Seal snipers eliminated the pirates and rescued Captain Phillips, who had heroically presented himself as a hostage to save his crew. A 2013 film starring Tom Hanks as Captain Phillips depicts his remarkable saga.
Countless sailors, soldiers, marines and airmen have given so much so that we can continue to celebrate Independence Day. Though we can never repay them, we must do what we can to remember their stories.
U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne represents the 1st Congressional District of Alabama, which includes Escambia County.