Kentucky was not a state when our country declared its independence nearly 240 years ago, but as we prepare to celebrate that anniversary on the Fourth of July, it is worth pointing out we do have ties to this early period.
We were home to about a half-dozen skirmishes during the Revolutionary War, including what is widely believed to be the war’s last: The Battle of Blue Licks in present-day Robertson County.
Although the war’s outcome was all but decided by that point, this battle was nonetheless a tough loss for many, especially Daniel Boone, whose son Israel was among the casualties. Two others who died that day include Stephen Trigg and John Todd; they were later honored by having two of our counties named after them.
More than a century-and-a-half later, Kentucky picked up a direct connection to the Declaration of Independence when federal officials decided during the darkest days of World War II that the irreplaceable document needed to be stored somewhere very safe.
As a result, in late 1941, Secret Service agents oversaw its transportation to Louisville, where a cavalry troop of the 13th Armored Division took over and covered the final leg to Fort Knox. It was returned to Washington, D.C., in 1944.
In late May, the Kentucky Historical Society highlighted another link the commonwealth has to the Revolutionary War when it unveiled a marker commemorating Daniel Morgan, a brigadier general who was one of the war’s most important battlefield tacticians.
Like Trigg and Todd, Morgan’s name continues to live on here in Kentucky, with Morgan County, Morgantown in Butler County and Morganfield in Union County all named after General Morgan.
His son-in-law, Presley O’Bannon, helped to design Morganfield, and O’Bannon called Kentucky home for much of his life, serving for a time in both the state House and Senate. He is most famous for being the first American ever to raise the U.S. flag over foreign soil during a time of war. That battle is best recalled in the second half of the opening line of the Marines’ Hymn: “From the Halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli.”
Kentucky can lay claim to several other heroes who served our country with distinction. Franklin R. Sousely of Fleming County was also famous for raising our country’s flag as one of the six photographed carrying out that duty in Iwo Jima; that photo became one of World War II’s most enduring images.
Mary Edwards Walker, who spent time living in Louisville, was the only woman to receive the Medal of Honor, and she was also the first female surgeon in the U.S. Army.
Colonel Charles Young, a Mason County native, was another pioneer as the first African American to reach the rank of colonel in the U.S. Army; and G.A. Morgan of Bourbon County invented the gas mask a century ago, saving countless lives from chemical weapons in World War I and beyond.
Kentucky is blessed to have had many others who have done more than their fair share in protecting the values and freedom we pay tribute to on the Fourth of July, and many of them, I’m proud to say, live here in our region.
There are also many others who paid the ultimate sacrifice serving our country, and we honor and remember them with memorials both here and across the country. A little more than a month ago, we broke ground for the newest: the Kentucky National Guard Memorial, which could have 450 names or more once complete. The General Assembly has authorized another memorial to recognize those whose lives have been lost while fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.
As we remember our fallen soldiers, our veterans, those still in uniform and the Founding Fathers who set our country on its course in 1776, it is good to recall the words of President Kennedy during his remarks at Independence Hall in Philadelphia 52 years ago this week.
“The theory of independence is as old as man himself, and it was not invented in this hall,” he said. “But it was in this hall that the theory became practice; that the word went out to all, in Thomas Jefferson’s phrase, that ‘the God who gave us life, gave us liberty at the same time.’”
At its core, that is what the Fourth of July represents and what our country has fought to preserve. It’s something to think about as we ready for the holiday’s fireworks and festivities.