The following essay from a LIFE book titled The American Spirit: Meeting the Challenge of September 11, was published in the Gazette in 2002. It honors Ted Morgan, who died this week at age 97.

The Fourth of July was a picture of summer in its glory this year on Martha’s Vineyard, where I live. Daylilies and hydrangea were in full flower, the corn in my garden was considerably more than knee-high. The busy harbors of the Island looked cheerful as a scene by Monet.

The day was also about as hot as it gets here off the coast of Massachusetts, with a temperature in the low 90s by midday. The humidity felt like Panama. But by the late afternoon when the parade began, a fine breeze was blowing off the water, and the crowds looked every bit as festive as one wants to think of crowds looking everywhere in the country on our national day-of-days, and especially on this first Fourth of July since Sept. 11.

Though there are three principal towns on the Island, our Fourth of July parade takes place always in Edgartown, the procession winding through the lovely old back streets, beneath the shade trees, then along by the harbor, before turning up Main street for what amounts to the grand finale. As parades go, it’s pretty much a small-town affair. Summer visitors usually make up half the crowd or more, and this year was no exception. But to my wife and me, watching from the front lawn of St. Elizabeth’s Church on Main street, the crowd looked bigger and seemed more appreciative than ever. There were more flags, more balloons, more star-spangled hats and shirts of all kinds. Antique Buicks and homemade floats rolled by, as in parades past. But then the Island’s several fire departments marched into view, and the cheer from the crowd might have been for the New York firefighters themselves. When the band broke into God Bless America, everyone joined in, singing in a way that I had not heard before and that many of us talked about afterward.

Yet nothing so moved me as the sight of one man, Ted Morgan, who, year after year, leads the veterans marching at the head of the parade.

For months now, working on a book, I’ve been lost in the letters and diaries from the Revolutionary War, the larger part written by the officers and men who fought in the American army. And the more I’ve read, the more I’ve learned of what happened in the year 1776 especially, the more I’ve come to appreciate what a near thing it was, and how decisive was the indomitable spirit of a relative few. “Perseverance and spirit have done wonders in all ages,” George Washington wrote with absolute conviction early in the struggle, as if he knew more than he let on.

And here now, at the head of our little parade on a summer evening, marched Ted Morgan, a native Islander, selectman, good neighbor, an old familiar face, and I wondered how many who stood watching and cheering had any idea what he had been through in that other dark time of World War II. Still slim and straight at the age of 80, he stepped along like a man half his age.

Enlisting in the army at 19, soon after Pearl Harbor, Ted Morgan served as a paratrooper in Sicily and Italy. As part of the 82nd Airborne he parachuted into Normandy on D-Day before dawn. He fought in the Battle of the Bulge and on into Germany until the German surrender. There in the dappled light on Main street in his own hometown, he seemed to me the personification of what we need to remember and honor in the aftermath of Sept. 11, the very essence of the strength that is in us, and I cheered and clapped until my hands ached.

Call it spirit, call it patriotism, grit, call it heart, it is what carried the day during the Revolution and so many trials since, and will again, we may be certain.