My Responsibilities in Keeping My Country Free (1977)

Note: This is one of three essays I wrote as a teenager that won national awards from the Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. I’m sharing them with you because, after re-reading them, I think they are more relevant today than when I wrote them. I hope you’ll forgive the somewhat awkward grammar and prose of a teen boy and see in them a glimpse of the man I’ve become, and the values I cherish even today.

There is an interesting back story to this essay. This is the second of the three I wrote that won awards from the Freedoms Foundation. My first essay, written in 1976, won a George Washington Honor Medal and a $50 Series E U.S. Savings Bond, and my AFJROTC unit was so impressed, they asked me to oversee an essay-writing program for the cadets the following year.

They were struggling with the task, however, and someone suggested I write a sample essay on that year’s topic as a guide for the others. At the end of the program, we submitted the sample essay along with the other completed works.  Much to my surprise, it ended up winning the top award in the nation in 1977 for Junior ROTC contestants, the Defender of Freedom Award, along with a $100 Series E U.S. Savings Bond. I wasn’t even trying to win!

By Cadet Lieutenant Colonel Ron Miller, Texas 81st AFJROTC Cadet Corps, Abilene, Texas

As we begin our third century as a nation, we should look to our past as a learning experience to prepare us for that uncertain road which lies ahead. The courage of our forefathers who risked their lives to satisfy their need to be free should be inspirations to us all. But we cannot use the past to set guidelines for the future; there can be no standards for that era since no one has been there before. Therefore, as we advance chronologically, let us be the leaders of a new revolution, a renaissance of the moral values and concepts which brought us here. We must strive not only as a united people but as single individuals yearning to remain free. This is where my obligation to my country and its people exists; I, as a single person, must do what I can to help maintain the liberty in which America was spawned.

Freedom is not easily won and when obtained is not easily kept. The blood of Americans has soaked the soil of our land and of lands foreign to us battling for freedom. People have risen to unprecedented heights and fallen to abysmal depths for the cause of freedom. Great literary and oratorical accomplishments have been sparked by man’s desire to be free. Many precious lives have been given to assure that our modern generation can live in the liberty that our ancestors wished for themselves and others.However, the same nature that has ingrained within us a desire for freedom has also caused us to abuse and take the freedoms which we have held for two centuries for granted. We must recognize this as a potential underlying threat to our personal liberties. I have witnessed what neglect of human rights has done to my fellow men in other nations around the world. I do not wish to lose my birthright to freedom, for I have lived free and I wish to die free. My ancestors made tremendous sacrifices to grant me this gift of freedom; can I do no less for my children? As long as I live, I must never allow my longing for security to envelop my need to live as a free man.

Therefore, it is my responsibility as an American to encourage my countrymen to strive to protect the liberties which we have and awaken them to the realization that we possess the greatest endowment ever bestowed upon humanity. Yet, it is delicate; that very fragility alone should warn us of how rapidly we could remove our eyes from it and in turn have it destroyed at the whim of some power mad entity. We should defend our freedom and maintain the principles which allow us to hold it. We must care for it and nurture it so that it may grow strong and true. I must also, as a part of the human race, devote myself to making my brethren in other lands free. We must make the plight of our fellow men known, for our failure to do so will result in the growth of apathy toward human rights in our own society. We cannot allow that to happen within our American culture, for we will surely begin to slip and lose the foothold which we have held for so long if we do, and the plunge downward will be frighteningly faster than the climb upward.

Freedom is essential to our survival, for with freedom comes peace and for us to remain a nation under God, we must first be at peace…with the world and with ourselves. I cannot tolerate the indifference toward our freedom that breeds in my country and its people.We have come much too far, for far too long, to se the American dream crumble to dust because of our own negligence.