By Ski Ingram

I describe myself as an American patriot. It means I love and support this country. And I am ready to defend it against its enemies.  It also means I believe in the principles of individual rights from this nation’s founding. I believe that the United States is that “shining city on a hill” spoken of by Ronald Reagan.

I believe in American exceptionalism. I believe that the framers of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were inspired by God while this country was being conceived. Today, too many people do not believe this.

In 1969 I was drafted into the Army. I was worried. I knew I would be going to Vietnam, a war where young men were dying every day. I was sworn into the Army on September 9, 1969 at the induction center in Los Angeles, California. A few weeks later, while in Basic Training, a not-so-tall soldier wearing a Green Beret and spit-shined jump boots stood in front of our formation. He had medals all over his chest. He addressed us in a gruff voice saying, “If you want to be a war hero come talk to me.”

At that moment my world changed. I wanted to look just like him. I wanted medals on my chest. I wanted to be a war hero. I took the Special Forces test and passed. After Infantry training, I was off to paratrooper school at Fort Benning, Georgia, where I learned to jump out of airplanes. I was then off to Special Forces (Green Beret) training at Fort Bragg N.C. After training to be a Green Beret medic I was sent to the Republic of South Vietnam where young men were still dying every day.

I was assigned to the 173rd Airborne Brigade and then to November Company 75th Infantry, Airborne Rangers, as a Ranger Scout. Every man in that unit wanted to be there. They all had some kind of special training before arriving in country. I would be working with men I could trust to do their best to go home and help me to get home also.

I spent a total of eight years in the regular Army and 6 years in the Army Reserves. I believe that the men and women in the U.S. military are the best in the world. They are the best trained, the best equipped and make up some of our most loyal citizens. I loved serving in the Army with men who were like-minded. I was with men who volunteered to serve in one of the most dangerous assignments, as a Ranger, because they believed in the cause of freedom, and bringing freedom to the Vietnamese people.

After my time in the military, I served with and retired from the Long Beach Police Department. I have served in many leadership positions in my Church, and in both local and district leadership with the Boy Scouts of America. These life experiences reinforced my love for the United States of America and my deep-seated belief that it is an exceptional land. 

Saying that the United States is exceptional is not the same as saying the country is better than other countries or that the people here are better than the people in other countries. You could say that this country is unique, and it is, but that doesn’t describe it either. It means our Constitution and founding principles are exceptional. 

The principles of individual liberty, equal justice to all and private property rights created a nation united not by creed or ethnicity but ideals, principles and vision. Our Constitution and Bill of Rights are enlightened documents that gives all who live here, both native born and immigrant, the opportunity to choose, to dream, to work, to succeed or fail and to direct their own lives and destiny. 

George Washington expressed why he believes the new nation to be the most exceptional in human existence when he wrote, “The citizens of the United States of America have the right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship. … happily, the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens.”

America was built on the eternal principle that all men are created equal and they have certain rights given to them by God. Because these rights are God-given, they cannot be taken away by man. This was a completely new concept in the world at that time. 

Another new concept was the idea of limited government. The founders had a genuine suspicion of government because of what they had experienced while being governed by Great Britain’s monarchy. They knew for the government to be “for the people” it had to have an outline of rules and laws that allowed people to construct their own moral and civil code. James Madison once said: “If men were angels, no government would be necessary…In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and the next place, oblige it to control itself.” 

Another concept unique to America at the time of its founding is the idea of equal justice under the law. They did not expect that everyone should be equal in wealth or social status for they knew that everyone had different talents and opportunities in life. Nothing was guaranteed except your right to pursue your desires and your happiness, to develop your talents, and to enjoy the fruit of your own labor.

Some will say that equal protection was not the case at the country’s founding, and they would be correct. However, the beauty of our Constitution is the addition of the Bill of Rights and the ability to add amendments that rectified these wrongs over time. This is evidenced by the passage of the 13th Amendment in 1865, which abolished slavery, the 14th Amendment ratified in 1868 which gives equal protection under the law to all who live here, and the 19th Amendment passed in 1920 which gave women the right to vote. It’s important to recognize that the seeds of growth existed in the ideals and principals that existed at this nation’s founding. 

Growing up, I always knew there were problems in America, but it wasn’t until I became a police officer that I began seeing it up close and personal. I began to live, while on duty, in a land of turmoil and commotion. I saw too many people, from all walks of life, having no direction, no reason to live, except to satisfy their base desires. I saw Vietnam veterans being maligned because they answered their country’s call and went off to war instead of Canada, like many others did in those days. 

Although this government was designed to encourage greatness in its citizens, it has not always lived up to its own ideal. It imposed injustices such as the legalization of slavery, indentured servitude, denying the right to vote to some, forced segregation, and cronyism. These things took place by flawed and dishonest men because they were mere mortals.

Our founders did not claim the country would be perfect, only that through freedom it may encourage greatness among its citizens. If one looks at history honestly, we see that the great men of our founding succeeded in creating a nation in which individual freedom became the pathway for unparalleled levels of achievement by its citizens. 

Those who don’t recognize America as exceptional, appear to have no idea where our freedoms come from, how hard it was to get them and how easily they can be lost. 

America is the land of promise and destiny and is still an exceptional place in which to live and raise a family. But today, many people fail to recognize this, believing the falsehoods that are repeated by commentators on the news and on social media every day. 

There is a war on truth going on in America not unlike the war in heaven so long ago. In that war Satan wanted to take away our agency, our freedom. There are men today who want to do the same, take away our freedom. They try to tell us what to do and even what to think. I am more than ever convinced that Satan, the father of lies, is raging in the hearts of men.

Abraham Lincoln is reported to have said, “You can fool all of the people some of time; you can fool some of the people all of the time, but you can’t fool all the people all the time.”  It seems that today that group of “some people” is so much larger! As I see it, more and more people are being fooled “all of the time.” They can be fooled because they are not being taught why America is exceptional. The American Revolutionary Era businessman, Timothy Dexter said, “an ungrateful man is like a hog under a tree eating acorns, but never looking up to see where they come from.” 

When we teach today’s school children to first look critically at our nation, judging its flaws before they are given the foundation of gratitude and understanding for the work the founders did, they never learn to appreciate the courage and fortitude that it took to create this nation. 

We have a whole population that needs to be reminded of Thomas Paine’s words from his pamphlet, The American Crisis, written in 1776. “What we obtain too cheaply we esteem too lightly; it is dearness only that gives everything its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as freedom should not be highly rated.” Our youth need to be taught the cost of freedom. They need to understand that freedom is never free. It has a very high cost.

Without knowing and understanding our history the Pledge of Allegiance becomes nothing more than words we say at the beginning of our school day or a government meeting. Might I suggest that in addition to the pledge we would benefit from learning The American Creed. The American Creed was written in 1917 by William Tyler Page a clerk in the U.S. House of Representatives. The House formally accepted it on April 3, 1918. It states: “I believe in the United States of America as a government of the people, by the people, for the people; whose just powers are derived from the consent of the governed; a democracy in a republic; a sovereign nation of many sovereign states; a perfect union, one and inseparable; established upon the principles of freedom, equality, justice, and humanity for which American patriots sacrificed their lives and fortunes.” For those who do not know our history, this creed teaches history. It reminds others of their responsibilities as citizens of this great country.

The saying that freedom is not free is so well known that it has become a cliché. But like many clichés it’s true meaning is lost. Ronald Reagan summed this up when he said, “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.” These powerful words help us understand not only the promise of this land but the responsibilities of those who live here.

Americans have been given a wonderful gift in our founding principles. It is up to us to preserve it for this generation and all future generations. Benjamin Franklin summed up this idea when he was asked by a woman, “Well, Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?”  He replied, “A republic, if you can keep it.” This is the raging question of our time: can we keep it?  I know that we can, but here is the hard truth. The first step in assuring that we keep our Republic is to be consciously grateful for our Constitutional freedoms.

American exceptionalism is not only true, but it’s a useful principle in helping people build the gratitude, passion, and fortitude needed to help the United States continue to live up to its promise.

You may be asking yourself, what can I do? Thomas Jefferson said, “Freedom is lost gradually from an uninterested, uninformed, and uninvolved people.”  We need to be interested, we need to be informed, we need to be involved. 

Today, more than ever, we need leaders who want to build America into a power that other nations can look up to and be counted on to fight tyranny wherever it exposes its ugly head. How can we help in this effort?  By letting our elected officials know how we feel. By writing letters to the editors of our newspapers. Speaking out in social media. Speaking up in town halls and other public meetings. Studying the issues and voting for the person who most agrees with our personal beliefs and ideals and running for public office. America needs good men and women who are not afraid of being bullied by special interest groups who do not have America’s interest at heart. We need men and women who will stand up and salute the flag as the symbol of everything that is good about America and will work to fix all that is not, without condemning all who have worked and died for us. 

Today is the day for every man and woman, young and old, to lift up their voices against the evil that is going on around us. It’s time to be bold. This is not the time to be afraid. Do not faint from the fight. The stakes are too high. We need warriors who will fight for freedom, who will not give up the good fight.  It’s the warriors who become heroes. I urge us all to be warriors in the cause of freedom and just maybe you’ll become a hero too.