The following is a holiday message from U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Eric Shinseki:
On Christmas Eve, 1776, General George Washington met with his war council in Buckingham, Pennsylvania, to finalize what he hoped would be a “brilliant stroke,” a turning point in America’s War for Independence—the crossing of the ice-clogged, storm-swept Delaware River, culminating in a surprise attack on Trenton, New Jersey. Nothing less than the future of this newly-declared republic rested on its successful outcome.
The challenges were overwhelming. Many of General Washington’s troops were ill, low on food, poorly clothed, and suffering through one of the bitterest winters on record. Outnumbered and pressed to the limits of human endurance, the American Army was not fit to take on the professional British Army and its Hessian allies, warmly encamped across the Delaware. So remote and unthinkable was such audacity that complacency and lowered guards gave rise to opportunity.
As General Nathaniel Greene described him, Washington “. . . never appeared to so much advantage as in the hour of distress.” That would have aptly described the entire Continental Army that Christmas Eve. Within 24 hours, at midnight on the 25th of December, 1776, Washington executed the crossing of the Delaware, and the rest is history: Washington’s “brilliant stroke” tipped the scales in the War for Independence.
From that Christmas of 1776, American men and women in uniform have spent many Christmases on battlefields in Europe, Africa, throughout the Pacific; on the Korean Peninsula and in Vietnam; and from Kuwait to Iraq and Afghanistan.
This season, we gather with our families and friends in a Nation free to celebrate in the custom of our choosing, by whatever name or tradition it is known, thanks to the long and unbroken line of patriots whose courage and sacrifice continue to secure the blessings of freedom and liberty upon our grateful Nation.
To our 23 million Veterans, to our 298,000 VA employees, and to our men and women of the Armed Forces so far from home, we send best wishes for a joyous Holiday Season and heartfelt thanks for the selflessness of your service.