Don't take holiday for granted

Updated: July 4, 2004, 2:45 PM ET
By Eddie Cheever Jr. | Special to ESPN.com

Eddie Cheever Jr.
Cheever
One morning in May, Indiana Sen. Richard Lugar inducted 20 young men and women into the U.S. Marine Corps during a ceremony at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. I stopped and watched. I cannot begin to tell you how moving and emotional that ceremony was.

I thought to myself, "These are the young Americans who look at the American flag and this country and what it stands for and want to do something for it." I was proud and touched.

Many of the members of our race team are around the same age as the young Marines I watched that day. Several have military experience. Many of them know people serving in Iraq. Our crew members are all thoughtful, dedicated young men. I consider them family.

One of our team members, Joey Vallone, has a brother, Adam, who was with one of the first Marine units to fight in Iraq. Adam is now stationed in Okinawa, Japan, and will return to the States in September.

He made it back. Hundreds of others -- all of them volunteers -- did not.

Remember that when you're watching the race Sunday. Without the sacrifice of soldiers, without their devotion and determination, we wouldn't be free to enjoy this race, this day, this holiday. Honor them with your thoughts and prayers. And when you are doing that, think of all the new freedoms that Iraqi citizens, young and old, regardless of gender, will soon enjoy. Freedoms that we often take for granted.

Freedom is a big part of the race weekend in Kansas City. It's a chance for all of us at Red Bull Cheever Racing to celebrate the holiday by sharing our passion with the people who make it possible. We're proud to be an American race team. We're proud of the fact that we can entertain people on such an important holiday.

My younger days were spent in Europe. My father moved from Phoenix to Italy, and, having served in the second world war, he was staunchly proud to be an American. As I pursued my racing career overseas, I noticed how difficult it was to celebrate our Independence Day in Europe.

When I was a child, I never took that freedom for granted. Italy wasn't that far from the communist Soviet Union, then America's arch enemy. I never felt insulated by the great geographical distance between the Soviet Union and the U.S.

By the time I was 10 years old, I'd read every magazine article I could to find out how long it would take a Soviet missile to hit Rome. It never dawned on me what to do with the information, nor how I would know the missiles had been activated. The Cold War was an eerie time for a young American in Italy.

It's very easy when you're in America to think of the Fourth of July as just fireworks and barbecues and time spent with friends and family, but we should take time to remember what the holiday is all about. It's about independence, about freedom of thoughts and expression, about democracy.

As I watched those young Marines in Indianapolis, I thought of the war in Iraq. It's been controversial, yes. But that's the beauty of our constitution. We can say and write and think whatever we want. We can disagree. We can debate. In the end, though, we must remember that people fought and died for that right. We have freedom because of those 20 young Marines -- and thousands of other soldiers before them.

Not long after that ceremony in Indianapolis, Ronald Reagan passed away. I thought back on his presidency and the changes that occurred in Europe at the time. I thought about something he said that best described Americans:

"It is time for us to realize that we're too great a nation to limit ourselves to small dreams. ... Let us begin an era of national renewal. Let us renew our determination, our courage, and our strength. And let us renew our faith and our hope.

"The crisis we are facing today requires our best effort and our willingness to believe in ourselves and to believe in our capacity to perform great deeds, to believe that together with God's help we can and will resolve the problems which now confront us. And after all, why shouldn't we believe that? We are Americans."

Never has that been more true.

-- Eddie Cheever Jr.

IRL IndyCar Series owner Eddie Cheever Jr. owns the Nos. 51 and 52 Red Bull Cheever Racing Dallara Chevrolets driven by Alex Barron and Ed Carpenter, respectively. He provides a diary to ESPN.com. Cheever's team Web site can be found at www.redbullcheeverracing.com.

ALSO SEE