Celebrating our nation

Each year, in towns and communities across West Virginia and the United States, families, friends and neighbors come together to celebrate our nation. Small children gaze with wonder at red, white and blue fireworks illuminating the night sky, and people young and old share stories of family traditions and days gone by.

This year, many of us will enjoy Independence Day as we have since we were children – wearing red, white and blue, attending picnics with our family and friends, eating barbeque, lighting sparklers and watching fireworks light up the sky.

As we prepare for a weekend of celebration, I am reminded of how fortunate we are to live in a state and a country where we are free – free to share our opinions, free to practice the religion of our choosing and free to peacefully assemble in support of or in protest of causes that touch our lives.

These freedoms are privileges that not everyone in our world enjoys, and they often come at a heavy price. No one knows that better than West Virginians. With the highest per capita percentage of residents in the military, we all know someone-a mother, father, brother, sister or a friend-who has served or is serving. We understand that our safety and freedom is possible because of the countless men and women throughout history who have served and sacrificed to preserve the freedoms we enjoy each day, embracing their patriotic duty to help protect the freedoms our Founding Fathers established nearly 240 years ago.

Our freedoms are the hallmarks of being an American and a West Virginian. Born of the Civil War and created by Presidential decree, our heritage and journey to statehood is uniquely our own – steeped in independence and perseverance. West Virginia, like the United States, embodies the spirit of freedom. As a state we are strong and resilient. It’s no wonder our state’s motto proudly proclaims Montani Semper Liberi or Mountaineers are Always Free.

The freedoms we enjoy also come with responsibility, and time after time West Virginians have willingly accepted those responsibilities. Hundreds of thousands of West Virginians have served our country, and some have paid the ultimate price. Countless others have served on juries and exercised their right to vote in local, state and national elections. Even others have volunteered as firefighters, mentors, relief workers, doing their part to make our vibrant communities great places to put down roots, open a new business or watch our children grow.

As we celebrate all of the things that make our country great this Fourth of July weekend, I encourage you to take time to remember the thousands of West Virginians who dedicated their lives, in one way or another, to keeping our state and our nation free. While you watch your children and grandchildren wave sparklers in the air, shouting and laughing, remember the great history and freedom we as West Virginians and Americans have to celebrate.