Music and the Spoken Word: ‘But one life to lose for my country’

Editor’s note: “The Spoken Word” is shared by Lloyd Newell each Sunday during the weekly Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square broadcast. This has been previously broadcast and will be given again on Sunday, June 28, 2020.

Nathan Hale was a schoolteacher, fresh out of college, teaching in a one-room school in New London, Connecticut, when the American Colonies went to war against the British in 1775. Inspired by the cause of independence, he joined the fight and quickly rose to the rank of captain. But the colonists faced a series of defeats in the early months of the revolution, and victory did not seem likely.

It was in these circumstances that Gen. George Washington asked for volunteers to spy on the British forces. It was a dangerous mission, and being captured would mean certain death. At first no one volunteered. Then 21-year-old Nathan Hale — alone — stepped forward.

Disguised as a civilian schoolmaster, he slipped behind enemy lines on Long Island to gather information on the opposing troops. The disguise worked for over a week, fooling multiple guards, until finally he was recognized, captured and identified as a spy. He was immediately sentenced, without trial, to be hanged in the morning. A British officer who witnessed the execution reported Hale’s last words: “I only regret, that I have but one life to lose for my country” (see “The Book of Virtues: A Treasury of Great Moral Stories,” edited by William J. Bennett, published in 1993, page 716).

Statue of Nathan Hale, an American revolution hero, in Yale University’s main yard.
Statue of Nathan Hale, an American revolution hero, in Yale University’s main yard. Credit: Shutterstock

Today statues of Nathan Hale stand in the cities of New Haven, Hartford, Chicago and New York. But of course, he isn’t the only patriot who gave all he had for freedom — and then wished he could give more. The pages of American history are filled with the accounts of such patriots, and the story is still being written through the heroic acts of today’s patriots. Nathan Hale’s dying words expressed what many of us feel — that freedom is as precious as life itself and the opportunity to defend those freedoms is an honor and a privilege, even if it is also a sacrifice.

As we celebrate Independence Day, we pay tribute to the long line of brave patriots, past and present, who left the comforts of home, volunteered in the face of danger, preserved and protected our freedoms, and added richness to the American story. We will never forget their sacrifice.

Tuning in …

The “Music and the Spoken Word” broadcast is available on KSL-TV, KSL Radio 1160AM/102.7FM, ksl.com, BYUtv, BYUradio, Dish and DirectTV, SiriusXM Radio (Ch. 143), the tabernaclechoir.org, youtube.com/TheTabernacleChoiratTempleSquare and Amazon Alexa (must enable skill). The program is aired live on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. on many of these outlets. Look up broadcast information by state and city at musicandthespokenword.org/schedules.