This Fourth of July marks the 227th anniversary of the birth of our nation, the day when brave and dedicated patriots expressed their love of liberty and founded a nation based on freedom. And from that day to this, the world has never been the same. As French statesman Marquis de Lafayette put it, "Humanity has won its battle. Liberty now has a country." Indeed it does. For more than 200 years, America has stood for freedom.

So, on the Fourth of July we mark more than a birthday. We celebrate our God-given rights to liberty and life, and we honor all those who, over the centuries, have been willing to fight and die to keep our country free.

Today we are engaged in a struggle as great as any America has faced throughout its long and honored history. It is a struggle every bit as much a fight for freedom as the war that was fought against Britain from 1775 to 1783.

Once again it is a battle for humanity, for the right of all people — not just Americans — to live in a world free of terror and fear.

The gallantry and courage of our men and women in uniform in the face of evil has stirred the souls of all Americans. Day after day, week after week, Americans have seen their faces and read their stories. They have shared their sorrows and celebrated their victories. And in each one of our service members they see reflected their own deeply felt honor, pride and patriotism. Through their valor and sacrifice, our republic has been strengthened and renewed.

So, as we celebrate the founding of our nation, we honor the men and women of the U.S. military who volunteer to help make our freedom possible.

Through Operation Tribute to Freedom, Americans across the land are participating in hundreds of local activities and events, honoring their hometown heroes, and expressing their appreciation and support for the service and sacrifices made by our men and women in uniform.

The global war on terror is far from over. While freedom has been restored to the people of Afghanistan and Iraq, dangerous threats remain — in those countries and across the globe.

The transition from tyranny to a free society will take time to accomplish. As Thomas Jefferson so aptly described it, "We are not to expect to be translated from despotism to liberty in a featherbed."

Meanwhile the tyranny of terrorism continues, and so must the global war on terror — until tyranny has been defeated wherever it threatens free men and women. As President Bush has said, the threat may be new, but America's duty is familiar: to defend the safety and security of our people and the hopes of all mankind.

We owe our thanks to those who are volunteering to serve our country and the cause of freedom. May God bless them and protect their loved ones, and may he continue to bless the United States of America.

Donald H. Rumsfeld is Secretary of Defense. Readers may write to him at: 1000 Defense, Pentagon, Washington, D.C. 20301-1000. Knight Ridder/Tribune did not subsidize the writing of this column; the opinions are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of Knight Ridder/Tribune or its editors.