This Fourth of July, ‘be an American worth fighting for’

Americans gather at Tonaquint Cemetery to honor fallen heroes at "Wreaths Across America" ceremony, St. George, Utah, Dec. 15, 2018 | File photo by Andrew Pinckney, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — Compassion. Devotion. Sacrifice. These are just a few of the values that make Americans worth fighting for, and no one understood this better than young patriot Sybil Ludington, whose midnight ride helped lead the way toward the freedom the nation enjoys today.

It was April 26, 1777, and the small town of Danbury, Connecticut, was under heavy attack by British soldiers and needed help. Unfortunately, local militia had been disbanded for spring planting, leaving their commander, Continental Army Col. Henry Ludington, with not one soldier to respond.

Without hesitation, the oldest of his 12 children sprung into action, hopping on her horse “Star” and riding off into the night to muster his forces from their beds. Avoiding capture by British Redcoats and even fighting off bandits with nothing more than her wits and a heavy, black stick, she rode through the rain 40 miles in the dark yelling, “the British are burning Danbury.”

On her trusted companion Star with her hair blowing in the night wind, she covered twice the distance as the legendary Paul Revere.

Recognized by George Washington for her heroism, history remembers her as an example of what it means to love, to sacrifice for friends and family and to defend the cause of liberty. Historical markers from Sybil Ludington’s ride can still be found along the route from Kent, New York, to Danbury, and a bronze statue was erected in her honor near her childhood home.

While her exploits were not immortalized in a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, at only 16 years old, Ludington was responsible for gathering almost 400 soldiers to fight back against the British that night. They were too late to stave off damage to the small town, but the militia drove the Redcoats all the way back to Long Island sound.

Although the meaning behind the Fourth of July is different for everyone, as we celebrate the 244th birthday of our nation, Color Country Chapter Daughters of the American Revolution regent Valerie King says it is important to remember it can also be a day for honoring the bravery of Americans like young Ludington that led the way to our freedom.

I love the story. Forty miles on horseback in the dark, and she didn’t get caught,” she said. “She was only 16, think about that. Being an equestrian myself, what she did was no easy feat.”

Due to lack of records, she still can’t be listed officially as a Daughter of the American Revolution, but King said Ludington is an example of the type of person we should all strive to live up to:

There are some pretty amazing people in the early days of the American Revolution. They were actually traitors, and they sacrificed their lives and their fortunes, no matter how big or small they were, to pick up arms to gain freedom from British rule and the freedom that we enjoy today. Those folks carried that torch of freedom and since the American Revolution, there have been so many men and women, perhaps millions, who have followed in their footsteps to preserve and protect that. And there was personal sacrifice, not only back then, but for everyone that serves today in varying degrees. Some have spilled blood and others have paid the ultimate price with their life. When you view it that way, how could you not want to be an American worth fighting for.

For the past decade, King and her Color Country Chapter Daughters of the American Revolution have organized a Wreaths of America event in Southern Utah each December to honor all soldiers that fought to defend the country’s freedoms throughout its history. She said this year’s theme is to “Be An American Worth Fighting For,” and Ludington’s ride and dedication to her countrymen is an inspiration during these unpredictable times.

At its core, King said July 4th is a celebration of the American independence won by those early Revolutionary War patriots who were again willing to do anything, even commit treasonous acts, to better the lives of everyone in the nation.

“You don’t know where you’re at today without following what happened in the past,” she said. “I think we take it for granted, maybe a little bit.”

Her own ancestors were farmers who grabbed their shovels and took up their hunting rifles to charge into battles like Germantown, Brandywine and Yorktown.

“It was a very difficult decision to make, especially knowing that you would be fighting against the British and the king. We revere them now as patriots, and thank god for them, but the British didn’t look at them that way. They would have been hung as traitors. When you view our history in that way, how could you not want to be an American worth fighting for.”

King said everyone can try to make the lives of other Americans better each day, like volunteering at a senior center, helping the needy or siting and talking with a veteran. For the Daughters of the American Revolution, Wreaths Across America is their way to remember and honor those who have served, but more importantly, teach children what being a veteran is all about.

Southern Utah patriots gather with tribe members to honor fallen heroes at Shivwits Band of Paiutes cemetery for “Wreaths Across America” ceremony, Dec. 15, 2018 | File photo by Andrew Pinckney, St. George News

The coronavirus shutdown has hampered their efforts to raise donations for this year’s event, and their main fundraiser held annually at Zion Harley-Davidson has been canceled, but she said it is completely understandable under the extreme circumstances people have been facing.

Since Wreaths Across America is an outdoor event, it will still carry on as planned, and the Color Country Chapter is going full-steam ahead with their efforts to raise donations. Last year, over 2.2 million wreaths were laid on the graves of veterans at 2,158 cemeteries, and over 2,300 were placed in Washington County alone.

“We can practice social distancing and if necessary we’ll wear masks, but we’re still going to promote it,” King said, adding that thankfully some of their main sponsors have come through donating enough to cover the graves of veterans at Tonaquint and Shivwits Band of Paiutes cemeteries, but the St. George city cemetery and others in the region are still in question. They can still use all the help they can get. “Right now, we’re 600 wreaths short. If we can’t do them all, we’re going to just hold what we have for the following year because how do you choose which veterans you wouldn’t put wreaths on.”

She encouraged anyone who would like to recognize, remember and honor those who have served to please help them make it happen again this year.

“It’s our 10th anniversary,” she said. “We’re not giving up.”

For more information about Wreaths Across America and the efforts of the Color Country Chapter Daughters of the American Revolution, visit their Facebook page or website. To learn how to volunteer, donate or become a sponsor, contact Valerie King at [email protected].

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