The 11th Celebrating America’s Freedom Event was recently held in Promontory, Utah at the Golden Spike National Memorial Park, where the country came together 154 years ago, uniting the East and West by railroad for the first time.
This was a monumental accomplishment. Coming on the heels of the Civil War, the country had been long divided in more ways than one, and the unification provided by the railroad would prove not only profitable and convenient, but in some ways, healing.
“There (is) nothing more important before the nation than the building of the railroad to the Pacific,” wrote President Abraham Lincoln in 1859. He would not live to see the completion a decade later, but he was correct about the railroad’s importance to a struggling nation.
During construction, veterans of the war from both the north and south worked together, side by side, along with freedmen who were formerly enslaved, Chinese immigrants who came to America seeking a better life, hardworking homesteaders and religious missionaries.
“Together, these incredible workers would lay nearly 2,000 miles of track. That exact number? 1776,” said National President Carla Martinez, speaking to a crowd of approximately 140 on an incredibly clear blue beautiful morning. Her home state is Utah and she chose this location to highlight the lesser-known contributions by veterans, specifically, who transitioned from opposite sides of a battle field to working side-by-side toward a common goal.
“These were people from all different cultures, backgrounds, viewpoints and ethnicities, who collectively represented not only what America was, but what it could be: a land where everybody is welcome, as together we work toward a brighter tomorrow. Those thousands of laborers embodied the same tenacity, strength, grit and determination of our forefathers, who also dreamed of uniting a nation.”
Past National President (2022-2023) Jane Reape of New York served as emcee. Before the speaking program commenced, a donation was presented to the Golden Spike National Memorial Park, which was accepted by Park Superintendent Brandon Flint.
“On behalf of the park services it is my great pleasure to welcome you all to my beautiful park,” said Flint. “It is just amazing to see the smiling faces, to see the blue shirts, to see so many people who are dedicated in prior lives in Military service through your continued service today through the VFW.”
VFW Commander-in-Chief Duane Sarmiento spoke about the significance of the site.
“Imagine in 1869 coming out here in a train and seeing this country,” he said, “and I think that’s what freedom is. When we we joined this railroad, they came out here and saw the limitless potential of the American dream.”