A howling wind screams across a frozen expanse of water. Blinding snow stings the already frostbitten skin as the men stamp their feet to try to stay warm. Heavy, woolen uniforms cake with ice as they ready the boats in bone chilling dampness. No fires. Can't let them know we are coming. Ice on the river...so much ice. Christmas night.
Tired. Cold. Hungry. Low on ammunition. These men are barely able to stand up, and yet they fight on. Boston, gone. New York, gone. Chased out of New Jersey into Pennsylvania...the British close on their heels. The revolution is near collapse. Times are desperate and the men are weary.
Washington...the General, the shining light. Some think him crazy to cross this Delaware on Christmas night. The river swollen with ice, the driving snow...is he insane? I do what I am told..."load the boats," he said. The water chills the bones as we push off, shoes leaking. The frozen slush sloshes in the bottom of the boat and the wind rips our breath from our bodies as we leave the safety of the shore. No turning back now. Pull on the oar....harder. Icy breath in great gasps as we pull against the December current. Washington is in my boat...he knows how cold we are, how tired, how hungry.
We strain on the oars against the ice. Ice so thick the oars break. I use my broken oar to push away the floes as snow whips against my exposed neck, raw from the chafing of wet wool. How much further? How long can we go on? I drive those thoughts from my mind and push the ice away from the boat. Hands frozen but sweat pouring down our faces...we push on.
To be a Hessian, right now, across in Trenton. Fat, drunk and happy. All I can think of is the cold and wanting to be home. Someone spies the far shore in the darkness. We pull harder as the General urges us forward. We pull with all our might and the strange sound of wet wood striking frozen ground fills the air. It sounded so loud, I thought we woke the British. Out of the boats, even colder and wetter than before.
"Form up!" came the yell just above the shrieking of the winter wind. The General called out, "Soldiers, keep by your officers. For God's sake, keep by your officers!" His Excellence moved to the head of the column, many men without shoes in the blowing sleet. We marched on....it was not long before we came upon their sentries. They ran towards their sleeping brothers firing as if seeing ghosts.
That night, Washington and his rag-tag Continental Army marched 9 miles South to Trenton. The near 2,000 men attacked the sleeping Hessians next morning and overran the town. After 45 minutes of fierce and bloody fighting, with the Hessian leader killed, more than 900 German mercenaries surrendered to Washington's Army. The Continental Army captured badly needed food and provisions - most notably ammunition. Moreover, they they captured something far more valuable than bullets....they gained the belief that they could fight and win against one of the most powerful nations in the world.
In the week that followed, successive victories in Trenton and Princeton buoyed the flagging spirits of the Revolutionaries, caused the British resolve and sense of invincibility to weaken and laid the groundwork within the minds of the people to believe in the possibility of their own freedom.
To all those men, who who braved the treacherous three hour journey across a partially frozen river in blizzard conditions, I give you my thanks. Without their sacrifice, and the sacrifice of those to follow, we would not be able to enjoy the many freedoms we celebrate today. From the icy crossing on Christmas night to the burning hot sands of modern day Iraq, our Veterans continue to protect that which we hold so dear - freedom.
Please take a moment, no matter what party you subscribe to, no matter you thoughts on our military and its role in Iraq and around the world, and say a silent "Thank You" to those brave men who served on that night in 1776 and who continue to serve today.