Despite differences, U.S. remains as strong as ever

Well, we have a birthday coming up this week, don't we? I mean our country, y'all - the good old U.S. of A.

July 4, 2006. How did it get here so quickly? It seems like just yesterday we were preparing to celebrate the bicentennial, doesn't it? Do y'all remember how it was back in 1976? Sure you do!

We were barely post-Watergate and post-Vietnam, and the hippies were still hanging on as cultural oddities and the yuppies had yet to appear on the scene. Heck, Elvis wasn't even dead yet, and Michael Jackson was still a young black man.

The whole country was busy getting ready to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence - now you talk about an earth-shattering event - the signing, I mean, not the commemoration.

The government was issuing special commemorative coins - I still have a few - and in deep south Georgia, way below the gnat line, a beer-guzzling filling station owner was ridiculing his brother because he - the brother - thought he would become the next president of this great nation.

Yes, those were exciting times, and I have several especially fond memories of the events leading up to that Fourth of July. I was barely out of college in the summer of 1976 and had just finished my first full year as a classroom teacher. I recently finished my 31st year, and I still don't know if I want to make a career of it.

The Spirit of '76 was alive and well 30 years ago, and the folks who created fireworks shows must have been living high on the hog. I was a Scoutmaster back then; Troop 82 in Porterdale. I remember the Atlanta Area Council Spring Encampment at Fort Gillem, over in Forest Park.

I think there were about 18,000 Scouts and Scouters in attendance, and they put on the dangdest fireworks display I have ever seen. I was sitting on an embankment beside a little Tenderfoot Scout named Greg Gaddy, and after every burst he insisted, "That's gotta be the grand finale," and yet there were always more.

Of course, God had a few fireworks for us, too, that weekend. A tornado warning was issued, and one destroyed a couple of buildings right down the road. We had to all take cover - I mean all 18,000 of us - in an old peanut warehouse. That's something you don't forget very easily - standing up to your ankles in government surplus peanuts along with nearly 20,000 Boy Scouts. It's a great country, isn't it?

Remember the Freedom Train? They took a lot of memorabilia out of the Smithsonian Institute, up in Washington, D.C., and hauled it all across the nation on a train so everybody could experience a bit of our nation's history.

I remember going to see it in Covington, I believe, and remember being dutifully impressed, although the line moved so fast that you couldn't really take time to stop and ponder the exhibits for as long as you might want.

Speaking of Covington, the worst idea to come out of the Bicentennial furor, by far, had to be the new flag pole the powers-that-be installed on the Square in that city. It had some kind of electronic eye - I ain't making this up, y'all - and the flag would come out automatically and slide up the pole as soon as it got good daylight each morning and then it would lower itself and, supposedly, tuck itself away inside a little compartment at the base of the pole, as soon as it got dark.

What a terrible idea! When we get too darn lazy to raise and lower the flag with the respect it is due, then we are just too darn lazy.

When the big day finally arrived, there were speeches and parades and fireworks and you name it - from sea to shining sea. A big time was had by all, and our republic's founding was properly recognized.

And now, here we are, three decades later, embroiled in a divisive foreign war, and up to our - well, up to way past our ankles - in illegal immigrants. We're arguing amongst ourselves over who may or may not marry whom and whether we should or shouldn't be able to express our grievances against our nation by burning the flag, the symbol of the freedom that has been purchased at so great a cost. And our enemies are sniping at us and praying that the discord and discontent will eventually weaken us and tear us apart and lead to our destruction.

I don't think it is going to happen. We have problems, sure. We have made mistakes as a nation in our past and will make mistakes as a nation in our future. But when old red-headed Thomas Jefferson penned the document whose existence we will pause to celebrate Tuesday, he wrote these words: "For the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence."

He was talking about God, y'all. Despite what the liberal naysayer would have you believe, this really is "one nation, under God," and that was the intention from the very beginning. And, to paraphrase another famous passage, if God is for us, who, indeed, can be against us?

Happy Independence Day, y'all - and God bless America!

Darrell Huckaby is an author and high school history teacher who lives in Rockdale County. Visit his Web site at www.darrellhuckaby.net. His column appears on Saturday.