Tag Archives: George Washington

The Great and the Insignificant

Over the past week, I have been thinking of George Washington, George Goodykoontz, Albert Einstein, Calvin “Silent Cal” Coolidge, George Washington Carver, Ernest Hemingway, and so many more people I could hardly list them all here. I was thinking of a vegetarian in India who changed the world. I thought of a little old lady who lived in India and didn’t have two pennies to rub together, yet kings and presidents bowed to her. She spent her life taking care of the poor. I thought of a woman named Ann at the library sharing history with her daughter. I thought of people famous to the whole world, and people of whom I may be the only person in the whole world who still remembers them.

English: George Washington Carver, American bo...

English: George Washington Carver, American botanist and inventor, at work in his laboratory Français : George Washington Carver, botaniste américain et inventeur, au travail dans son laboratoire Original caption: Series VII.1, Photographs, Box 7.1/3, file “II. Photographs–Carver, George Washington,” USDA History Collection, Special Collections, National Agricultural Library. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I thought of a Medal of Honor winner who once told me, “A hero is a coward who got cornered.” I also thought of another Medal of Honor winner, but he didn’t get to meet the president, his widow did though. He was the first submariner awarded the Medal of Honor.

English: The Medals of Honor awarded by each o...

English: The Medals of Honor awarded by each of the three branches of the U.S. military, and are, from left to right, the Army, Navy/Marine Corps and Air Force. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My curse is an overriding need to analyze. I analyze everything, always looking for patterns and differences, always trying to understand this amazing world and everything in it. As I thought of these people, I realized they all had something in common. With the possible exception of George S. Patton, none of these people sought greatness. (I do not believe greatness can be thrust upon anyone, the individual cannot control that.) They also had something else in common.

Lt. Col. Lyle Bernard, CO, 30th Inf. Regt., a ...

Lt. Col. Lyle Bernard, CO, 30th Inf. Regt., a prominent figure in the second daring amphibious landing behind enemy lines on Sicily’s north coast, discusses military strategy with Lt. Gen. George S. Patton. Near Brolo. 1943. (Army ) Exact Date Shot Unknown . NARA FILE #: 111-SC-246532 WAR & CONFLICT BOOK #: 1024 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

They all had a knowledge and an acceptance of that knowledge that was so much a part of them as to be unnoticeable by the rest of us. We all know our time is limited, we do not know how limited, but it is limited. Some of us will reach old age like Mother Teresa; some of us will never leave our youth like James Dean. All these people, these great men and women, the famous and the obscure, they accepted their own mortality, in their own way, and moved forward with it. It is this clock, this kitchen timer, always counting down, always there, always ticking, that drove their passions. This clock is with all of us, normally subdued by our conscious, occasionally coming to the surface at times when we feel great loss.

Cropped screenshot of James Dean in the traile...

Cropped screenshot of James Dean in the trailer for the film East of Eden (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This embracing of mortality allowed these people to concentrate their passion in one field of endeavor. Like da Vinci and Patton most had many fields of interest they were good at (also driven by their own mortality), but one area captured their passion, their drive, and their energies. This one area was larger, at least to them, than they were. They accomplished things that many of us felt could not be accomplished. However, their greatest accomplishments were not walking on the moon, inventing the light bulb or breaking the four-minute mile; their greatest accomplishment was to show us what we are capable of. Us. Common, obscure, average human beings, we can do things we never thought we were capable of; and we know that because someone has done those things before us. These great men and women have influenced us, and helped us to believe in ourselves, they blazed the trail for us.


Nicolai Tesla (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Yet, to the people who knew them best, they were still just Nicolai or Amelia, that little kid down the street with the runny nose. Long after their greatness was proclaimed by the world, did those who knew them best see them as anything other than that little kid down the street. Most of them had one or more people who did recognize something in them and encouraged them, but many knew only their own encouragement until long after greatness was proclaimed by the world. Some even had to endure ridicule and mockery, and yet they strove forward, always forward, even when they were the only one who believed in themselves. At times even this self-belief and self-encouragement failed them, yet they pushed forward. Thank God they did, they gave us electricity and penicillin, telephones and blood transfusions, cars and sonograms. They touched the lives of every one of us.



You touch the lives of hundreds of people every day, and you probably do not know it. The clerk at the gas station you say “Thank You” too. The unhappy kid in line at the store you smile at. The person in traffic who is begging to be flipped-off, but you don’t. You too have your own passions. Maybe you are one of the lucky few who has someone to encourage you. They encourage you because they see the greatness within you (Next time you see that person, do something for me. Give that person a hug or a handshake and say “Thank you for being you.”) Even if you do not have the support of someone, that greatness is there just the same. Did Mother Theresa invent technologies or discover new drugs? No. She comforted the lowest of those among us and showed them that they were as great as the greatest among us.

English: Mother Theresa with Dr. S. Brahmochary

English: Mother Theresa with Dr. S. Brahmochary (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I was a small child John Alexander showed me an easy and quick way to sketch a sailing ship. You see John taught art to small classes of children at Silver Lake Elementary School. Forty years later small children are still learning how to draw ships from John though they have never met him. Friday my daughter showed me her drawing of a sailing ship. These small children today receive John’s gift through others who sat in those classrooms so long ago. So, you see we all influence more people than you could ever imagine.

The Mirror

Look in the mirror to see another great person. The Mirror (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You are great, even if you forget that. You too influence hundreds, thousands, and yes someday-even millions of people. Do not stop following what you like, do not ever stop pursuing your passions. Always believe in yourself, especially when others do not. Your influence will continue long after our time is over. You are great, and no one is insignificant.

Personal Note:

John, she draws just as you taught us. You would be proud. Thank you my teacher. Thank you my friend.


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The Immigrant

A replica of a cabin in which soldiers would h...

A replica of a cabin in which soldiers would have lived at Valley Forge (unknown date) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

English: The headquarters of George Washington...

English: The headquarters of George Washington at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

Washington and Lafayette at Valley Forge

Washington and Lafayette at Valley Forge (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

English: National Park Service ranger in Conti...

English: National Park Service ranger in Continental Army uniform at Valley Forge, Penna. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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