One of this country’s greatest patriots was a French nobleman. Born to immense wealth, the Marquis de Lafayette disliked court life and longed to fight for liberty. When he was nineteen years old, he bought a ship and set sail from France to join the American Revolution, arriving in South Carolina on June 13, 1777.
Declaring that “the welfare of America is intimately connected with the happiness of all mankind,” Lafayette volunteered to serve in the Patriot army without pay. He fought beside the American troops and suffered with them at Valley Forge. George Washington became like a father to Lafayette, and Lafayette named his son for Washington.
After the Revolution, Lafayette sailed back to France. Twice he returned to America to see his old comrades. The second trip came in 1824, when he was an old, bent man. He traveled from town to town, and everywhere crowds welcomed him as a hero.
At one reception, a story goes, an old soldier in a faded uniform approached the Frenchman. Over his shoulder he carried a tattered blanket. He drew himself up, gave a salute, and asked if Lafayette remembered the snows of Valley Forge.
“I shall never forget them,” answered Lafayette. “One bitter night,” continued the soldier, “you came upon a shivering sentry. His clothes were thin, and he was near frozen. You took his musket and said, ‘Go to my hut and get my blanket. Bring it to me while I keep guard.’
“The soldier obeyed your directions. When he returned to his post, you took out your sword and cut your blanket in two. One half you kept. The other you gave to the sentry. Here, General Lafayette, is half of the blanket, for I am the soldier whose life you saved.”