“Not too many miles from Boston rests a large boulder on Lexington Green,” said Ezra Taft Benson at a 1973 BYU devotional. “Inscribed on this rock, which I read again a short time ago, are the words which Captain Parker gave to his minutemen on April 19, 1775, nearly 200 years ago: ‘Stand your ground; don’t fire unless fired upon, but if they mean to have a war, let it begin here.’”

Late the previous night, Paul Revere and William Dawes had galloped through the countryside from Boston to Lexington, Massachusetts, to raise the alarm of approaching Redcoats. As the first light of dawn illuminated the town green, some 80 minutemen under John Parker’s command faced hundreds of British troops. A British officer demanded that the militia lay down its arms and disperse. Then a shot rang out—from where no one knows, even today—and the tension of the morning erupted in an uncontrolled outburst of gunfire.

The skirmish was brief. The Redcoats and minutemen traded volleys and the militia scattered. Only one British soldier was wounded, and the minor exchange between two vastly unmatched forces surely did not register among the great British battles of history. But the morning’s violence yielded the first military veterans of what would become the United States of America. As the Redcoats marched away to Concord, they left eight Americans dead and nine wounded. “They poured out their generous blood like water,” said Daniel Webster, “before they knew whether it would fertilize the land of freedom or of bondage.”

The blood of those 17 men sanctified the Lexington Green that day, marking it as holy ground, consecrated to the freedom they sought to defend. Selfless devotion to the freedom of others stands among the defining characteristics of those we honor on Veterans Day.

We who enjoy unparalleled rights and security owe an unpayable debt of gratitude to those who gave life, health, wholeness, and strength in our behalf. As we ponder how to honor such sacrifice, how to carry on the work of liberty, we should remember George Washington’s warning: “Virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government.”

Only by living true to eternal verities can we preserve our nation’s safety and prosperity, said Elder Benson, then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles: “Let us rededicate ourselves to the lofty principles and practices of those wise men whom God raised up to give us our priceless freedom. Our liberties, our salvation, our well-being as a church and as a nation depend upon it.”

—Jeffrey S. McClellan, Director, BYU Publications & Graphics

This freedom which we enjoy did not originate with the founding fathers. This great boon of freedom and respect for the dignity of man came as a gift from the Creator. -Ezra Taft Benson designed quote