By Honorable Donald C. Winter, Secretary of the Navy Two hundred thirty one years ago, Congress gathered in Philadelphia to declare our independence from Great Britain. John Hancock and 55 other patriots signed this Declaration, pledging their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor to the cause of freedom. To this day, the Declaration of Independence is frequently quoted because its principles and values define us as a nation. Its author, Thomas Jefferson, asserted that certain truths are self-evident. Among these truths is the idea that all citizens have certain rights, such as life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. These rights are unalienable -- no government can take them away. Today we look back at these gifts of freedom and independence and we admire our founders for their wisdom and foresight. America still stands for the ideals they set forth in our Declaration of Independence. Those ideals and the experiment in self-government that began in Philadelphia with such hope and promise have, in the intervening years, served as an inspiration to people around the world. This Fourth of July, let us all take a moment to reflect on the meaning of our independence, and on what is required to preserve it. I salute each and every one of you for your sacrifice and service, and I extend my sincere thanks to your families whose strong support is so critical to our success. Your dedication ensures our freedom and keeps us safe, and the American people are grateful for your noble efforts. You are worthy heirs to the patriots who fought for our independence, and I am honored to serve as your Secretary.