By JESSICA ELLIOTT
It is the morning after my 18th birthday. It is still dark outside; in fact, it's 5 a.m., but I am wide awake with anticipation. I am at the airport, preparing to embark on what I know will be an unforgettable journey. I have been given the privilege of going on the Central Illinois Honor Flight to Washington, D.C., a program that takes World War II veterans to see their memorial in the nation's capital.
It's been nearly 70 years since these men were at war, but their sense of duty remains undiminished. I've never met a veteran who'd say he would not serve again if he had it to do over. Something compelled them to enlist all those years ago, and I see that same drive in their eyes as 90-year-old men. What, I wonder, do they all feel so strongly about?
I soon found my answer.
Written in stone, there at that reverent memorial — their memorial — are the words: "Here in the presence of Washington and Lincoln, one the 18th century father and the other the 19th century preserver of our nation, we honor those 20th century Americans who took up the struggle during the Second World War and made the sacrifices to perpetuate the gift our forefathers entrusted to us: a nation conceived in liberty and justice."
The veterans on this Honor Flight responded to the call of these great presidents — whose monuments salute the World War II Memorial on either side — the call to uphold freedom, to fight injustice, and to protect from tyranny. These values are embodied in our nation's Constitution, a code that Americans have come to apply not only to themselves but to all of humanity. This document that began its life with the purpose of guiding a young nation down the path of freedom and independence has continued to secure the rights of American citizens ever since.
Through the Constitution and its amendments, Americans have established the freedoms of speech and religious worship; abolished slavery; given a voice to every adult through the vote, regardless of race or gender, and safeguarded many other aspects of American independence.
These inalienable rights represent the ideals that our country was built upon. They are the values instilled in the hearts of our citizens. The Constitution, and all its responsibilities and challenges, continues to influence our actions and decisions to this day, because it has evolved alongside its people. A man once said, "The United States Constitution has proved itself the most marvelously elastic compilation of rules of government ever written." That man was Franklin D. Roosevelt, president of the United States during the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, the event that led to America's involvement in World War II. His adherence to the Constitution compelled him to take action against the oppressive forces that threatened our country and its principles of freedom and equality.
From Washington and the founders of our nation, to Lincoln who unified a divided people, to the young men who enlisted in the military some 70 years ago, the Constitution has continually inspired Americans since its signing. Quite simply, it was written to ensure the promise of a better tomorrow, and it was this aspiration I saw in the eyes of each World War II veteran on the Honor Flight.
They risked their lives to preserve the American way of life, as well as to provide future generations with better opportunities to pursue their dreams in peace. My generation enjoys a world made possible by their actions. No passage of time will lessen the importance nor diminish the relevance of their defense of our Constitution.
This is why their story is not one to be confined to a history book; it did not just change the world once — it perpetually changes it. Just like the actions of these brave veterans, the Constitution continues to affect how Americans interact with each other, and with the world. It is not a dead and dusty document by any means. It lives, and it lives within us.
Jessica Elliott is a senior at the High School of St. Thomas More. This essay won at both the district and state levels in the Veterans of Foreign Wars Voice of Democracy student competition and was recognized among the best in the nation.