Tomorrow is the anniversary of some of the most famous words in American history. It was on September 22, 1776 that a 21-year-old man named Nathan Hale was hanged by the British and uttered the great words, “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.”
Nathan Hale graduated from Yale with first-class honors at age 18. He was a teacher in a local grammar school who volunteered to serve in George Washington’s army. In 1776, Washington called for a brave volunteer to take on the mission of going as a spy behind enemy lines to find out the location of the anticipated attack by the British. This was such a dangerous mission that Nathan Hale was the only one who volunteered. Hale volunteered to penetrate the British line at Long Island, and left on his mission on September 8, 1776. Hale was captured by the British on his return to the American forces. The very next morning, without any trial, Nathan Hale was hanged from an apple tree in an orchard near what are now the streets of East Broadway and Market in New York City. No one knows where his body was buried.
A life-size statue of Nathan Hale is honored at Yale University and at least a half dozen copies of that statue are in other prominent places, particularly and most appropriately at the CIA headquarters, and also in front of the Chicago Tribune building in Chicago. Nathan Hale’s great-nephew the well-known author Edward Everett Hale, later wrote: “We are God’s children, you and I, and we have our duties…. Thank God I come from men who are not afraid in battle.” Every schoolchild should know the name and famous words of Nathan Hale because he is the kind of man who won our independence for us.