Like many Americans, George Goodykoontz was an immigrant. Born in Germany, he settled in northeastern Pennsylvania in Northampton County. The year before, George became an American citizen on July fourth and now he was a volunteer in the army. Normally forty-five year old men are not accepted as new recruits in the military, but these were desperate times. In just two battles the previous year, many of George’s neighbors were killed. Their regiment was almost wiped out covering the retreat of the army from New York and those who survived were killed in battle shortly thereafter. To quote Thomas Paine “These are the times that try men’s souls”.
George had only been in the military six months, having joined in June, but he already knew what defeat was like. The last major defeat took place just outside the capital on the banks of a creek. Outnumbered their commanding general organized a defensive line along the creek, believing the enemy would try a frontal attack. The enemy commander divided his forces, crossing the creek up river and out flanked them, driving the Americans from the field of battle. The capital fell. Could this army win a battle, would this young republic survive? What would happen to George’s family? He could go back to Germany, would he?
A foreign military adviser had scouted an area for the army to camp for the winter. Twenty-five miles west of the capital near major trade routes and farm supplies on the west bank of a river, this valley would be the winter encampment for an American army that was on the verge of collapse. An American army that had lost its capital and almost every battle it fought. Having lost another one thousand men in a failed attack only weeks after being out flanked on the creek, eleven thousand men trudged on foot, in a light snow, up Gulph road to the valley that would be their winter camp. The army arrived on December nineteenth; they would build cabins for the winter but this day they set their tents.
One week later, on Christmas day, the army was still living in tents and once again, the snow was falling. The commanding general was in his tent writing his resignation letter when he heard a great noise coming from the camp. He left his tent and went from campsite to campsite and found the men singing and in great spirits. At one campsite, he asked the men “Have you not suffered enough?” They responded, “With you to lead us we cannot lose”. The general returned to his tent and burned his letter of resignation. This Christmas day, living in tents and with nothing to eat except wild game cooked with turnips, these men were in good spirits. This winter would be terrible for them and two thousand five hundred of these men would die before spring, most from disease and sickness. Though they had many reasons to be fearful, Christmas day 1777 found these men confident and they would emerge from this winter a disciplined and professional army that would defeat the British.
Who was George Goodykoontz and what happened to his family? George was one of more than eight thousand men who would emerge from Valley Forge and win our freedom for us. You will not read the name of George or his family in the history books, though we all know the battles they have fought and blood they have shed. They were just typical Americans and many times in the future, when liberty would be threatened his family would again take up arms. Some would come home and some would be buried on battlefields where they fell in foreign lands. From Valley Forge to Belleau Wood to Iraq and many wars in between George’s family would continue to defend freedom, whatever the cost.
The experts have estimated that one in four Americans have relatives that fought in the American Revolution. Once again, the experts are wrong. Being an American is not a bloodline. Whether your ancestors are indigenous, came over on the Mayflower or even if you stepped off a plane at Kennedy International Airport yesterday, you are related to those men at Valley Forge. Being an American is not a bloodline. Being American is a spirit within each of us, a spirit that willingly sacrifices for freedom and for others in times of need. Being American is seeing each other and the world around us differently than the way billions of people around the world see it. Millions of our fellow Americans today are filing paperwork and paying fees to American embassies around the world. They follow the rules and when yet another fee is asked for, somehow, they find the money. They have that same determination and grit that those men at Valley Forge had, and one day they will come home to a land they have seen only in their dreams, one day they will take the oath of citizenship. One day they will have a piece of paper that confirms they are what they have always been at heart, an American.
Another Christmas finds our young people on foreign soil defending freedom. Our young men and women today continue to go in harm’s way defending freedom. Determination and freedom is their inheritance from those men at Valley Forge, the inheritance of all Americans native and immigrant alike. That Christmas long ago at Valley Forge was a turning point not just for a new republic, but also for millions of people around the world who in years to come would need us to defend their freedom from tyrants and dictators alike.
That Christmas long ago in Valley Forge was also a turning point for a general who was disheartened and had decided to resign and go home in defeat. On that Christmas day in 1777, the men of the continental army gave to General George Washington a Christmas present that we all have benefitted from. Those men gave to George Washington renewed hope, determination and cautious confidence that would lead us to independence and a new nation. That hope, determination and cautious confidence is alive today in the men and women of the military. This Christmas day as you sit down to dinner with your family, these men and women are walking the line to keep us safe. They are all Americans, though some have not yet received their official status of citizen. They are the legacy of General Washington and those men at Valley Forge. They are there in harm’s way for us. Thank you too all the George’s, whatever their names may be.
Author’s Note: George was also joined by his brother at Valley Forge. George died shortly after America won its independence. I have long said I would have liked to have been “a fly on the wall” when George told his wife he was joining Washington and leaving her with the children. Considering the many losses of General Washington, up to this point, I am sure she was not very positive about the idea.
- Book Review: The Road to Valley Forge (montyrainey.wordpress.com)
- George Washington’s Prayer At Valley Forge: The National Day of Prayer Begins (bearveracity.com)
- Revolution Museum Unveils Design by Robert A. M. Stern (nytimes.com)
- The Valley (markallenwhite.wordpress.com)
- Testimony of an American Patriot – Part 2 (curbowfamily.wordpress.com)
- Dude! It’s Independence Day! (whereandwhenpa.wordpress.com)
- Three Miscellaneous Haiku by Dennis Lange (thebardonthehill.wordpress.com)
- A Memorial Day Message (rohmnj.wordpress.com)