"One if by land; two if by sea."
Who can forget that memorable phrase from Longfellow's epic poem about the first moments of the American Revolution?
It calls up the signal from the belfry of the Old North Church in Boston to inform Paul Revere in Charlestown across the estuary of the Charles River whether British troops were to cross the river in boats from ships in Boston or to take the longer route and march there.
The signal was in the form of lanterns hung in the church steeple, and when Revere saw two and knew how the Redcoats were to begin their march to Lexington and Concord, he mounted his horse and began his historic ride to warn the townspeople and their militias that the British regulars were on their way.
And thus began the world's exercise in freedom, the long and costly Revolutionary War that led to the separation of subjects living in the colonies of America from the British crown. Thus began the move to independence, to the highest level of freedom the world had ever known and to the greatest country there has ever been.
It was on April 19, 1775, that the British regulars marched to Lexington where they skirmished with Minutemen on the village green after they failed to find John Hancock -- whom they sought for various reasons -- and a chest containing papers they thought would incriminate Colonial leaders.
Thwarted in that endeavor, they met a group of townsmen, farmers and artisans in the town's militia, and shots were fired, and men on both sides were hit and killed.
There, at "the rude bridge that arched the flood," as Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote a hundred years later the "... embattled farmers stood and fired the shot heard 'round the world." The war for freedom had begun Then the hapless British soldiers marched back to Boston assailed at frequent intervals by the Minutemen.
And now, all these years later, we look back in admiration and wonder at the resolution, the determination, at the defiance and audacity and, most of all, at the incalculable courage of those simple people who stood up to the greatest power on earth and set the way for all our nation has become.
Today we remember all that happened on that fateful day in 1775, with speeches and memorials and gatherings. Much of what we remember about the events of the day comes from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's poem, The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere. And though the poet had it wrong in several particulars, the poem captures the moment, the daring of the people, the apprehension and danger, in the episode.
It captures the feeling of patriotism by the colonials, the love of country, and the yearning to live in freedom, with personal liberties guaranteed and relief from the cruel oppression by monarchs and dictators that most of those who have peopled the earth have lived under.
Each year a student of history and an admirer of one of our first patriots dons colonial garb, mounts a horse and rides the route Paul Revere rode on that historic night, no longer a country road but a main road through the towns Revere went through. He is greeted each year by cheering crowds who share in his celebration of the quest for freedom.
There are re-enactments of the confrontation on Lexington Green and the fighting at the bridge in Concord. We show our love of the freedom we have in abundance but often enjoy with apathetic disregard.
Patriot's Day is a time to make such a show and to demonstrate that we do truly value all that those early patriots did to provide us with the foundation of the nation we have become.
It is a moment when we think of the sacrifices our forebears made to throw off the oppressions and injustices imposed on them by a ruthless king from across a vast ocean. It is a time when we look back in wonder at the fortitude and determination our ancestors showed as they faced crushing adversity and overpowering military force, and we ask ourselves if we would act with the same strength of purpose if we were faced with the same evils.
Patriot's Day is to observe what our early forebears did to give us all we have today and to rededicate ourselves always to be stalwart and strong in our defense of our freedoms and our way of life.
Bob Reed, 93, is a former editorial writer for The Sun. Send comments to Bgreedy1@aol.com.