Each year we get a wake-up call. It comes wrapped in a package of parades, fireworks, community celebrations and dances, but the message is deadly serious.

It is the message of freedom.

Too often we Americans take for granted the liberties we enjoy in the United States. We take for granted the fact that those liberties were secured through struggle and sacrifice. And that they may be lost forever unless we remain vigilant in their defense.

Going back to 1776, men and women have sacrificed their well-being and, in many cases, their lives so that we can enjoy the freedoms they did not have.

On the Fourth of July, we not only celebrate our nation's independence from Great Britain, we celebrate a new form of self-government that did not exist before. We, as Americans, were pioneers in implementing the bedrock principles of self-government, representative democracy and, most importantly, the notion that life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness were not to be granted by government; they are God-given and no one in government or anywhere else can take them from us.

Even today, the men and women of the U.S. armed forces are locked in a life-and-death struggle in Iraq and Afghanistan against an enemy that wants nothing less than our nation's downfall. Though some would characterize the war on terrorism otherwise, it is truly a struggle between good and evil, between freedom and totalitarianism.

It is a struggle the United States cannot afford to lose.

At stake is the outcome of a war that was declared on Sept. 11, 2001, when terrorists murdered thousands of innocent Americans. Think for a minute about the horror of those jets slamming into the World Trade Center, of desperate men and women leaping to their deaths as firefighters and other rescue workers futilely struggled against insurmountable odds to save them.

Think about the men and women killed as a jetliner slammed into the Pentagon, the center point of our nation's military strength.

And think about the desperate heroism of the men and women aboard that jetliner over Pennsylvania as they recognized the target of the hijackers and chose to give their all to save the lives of many more.

The battlegrounds of this war are different from previous wars but the stakes are the same.

Osama bin Laden and other terrorist leaders, aided and abetted by Saddam Hussein and others, have repeated the message: "We will kill you and your children." As long their goal remains the death of every American and the American way of life, we must continue to root out all sources of support for terrorists and their ilk.

We must never, ever give up. We will follow their trail to Afghanistan, Iraq and wherever else they may lurk, planning their next attacks, their next murders.

At stake is maintaining the freedoms our forefathers secured with their blood, sweat and tears. To allow anyone to chip away at those freedoms, to negate the world-changing model of freedom and liberty that the United States has become, is contrary to our very reason for being.

As we bask in the afterglow of a wonderful Fourth of July holiday weekend and its celebrations, let us remember that our nation was created and became great not by kicking back and taking our freedoms for granted but by remaining ever-vigilant that those freedoms shall never be taken from us.

Never.

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