We Americans have been very fortunate. Throughout our history, starting with the American Revolution and at the most critical times in our history, leaders have come forward to guide the nation through its most difficult times. This has been true at all levels of our society. We can all remember in our own personal experience the leaders who have had a positive influence on our lives and on society.

Since the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, and the tumultuous years leading up to and following it, we were fortunate to have leaders who at great personal expense and physical hardship were willing to give of themselves to establish the greatest nation in history. Without the collective efforts of the Founding Fathers (Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Franklin and Hamilton), the nation would never have been formed. There were also tens of thousands of citizens within the 13 colonies who supported the struggle for freedom from a tyrannical government.

Gen. George Washington, commander of the Continental Army and later the first president of the United States, is known best. He displayed selfless leadership during the many battles he fought and as the first president.

Later in history, there was President Lincoln, responsible for the Emancipation Proclamation, the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, giving all Americans equal right under the law. At the beginning of Teddy Roosevelt's term, the nation was weak internationally; he created the Great White Fleet to demonstrate American power. Franklin D. Roosevelt led the nation through the Great Depression and World War II. Ronald Reagan, along with other world leaders, brought down the Soviet Union without a single shot.

The leaders of the Industrial Revolution also had a great influence on American society. Robert Fulton, Samuel Morse, Thomas Edison, Cornelius Vanderbilt, Alexander Graham Bell, John Mitchell, founder of the United Mine Workers Union, and Samuel Gompers, creator of the AFL-CIO.

All of these and others too numerous to mention, through their leadership, built and strengthened our nation - all with respect to the rights of its citizens.

Losing our way

As we look back over the past several years, possibly as many as 20 years, we can see a leadership vacuum developing, a deterioration within our society of the things that are most important to us: effective government, family values, a reasonable standard of living and a safe living environment. Instead we have ineffective and, in some, cases corrupt government, deteriorating family life, high unemployment, falling IRAs and a fear of terrorism. A general malaise is seen throughout the land. It seems that we as a people lost our way.

Look to the headlines and news alerts and we can see how we live:

- Mass murders of innocents from Columbine, Colo., to Sandy Hook, Conn.

- PSU child abuse scandal resulting in criminal indictments.

- A U.S. president is impeached for lying to a grand jury concerning his inappropriate activity with an intern in the Oval Office.

- A respected economist cheating on his income tax in the amount of $130,000. He was then nominated and confirmed by the U.S. Senate to be Secretary of the Treasury.

- Three sisters, one a Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice, one a state senator, the third a staff member to the judge, were convicted of improper use of their office.

- Numerous financial scandals on Wall Street, Bernie Madoff being the poster boy for many others.

Each of these events are given to us one at a time through the media. We take note and move on. But collectively, they, and others too numerous to mention here, start to form a picture of a society and nation in decline.

Time for sacrifice

So the question we have to ask ourselves is: what can we do about it? For that, we have to go back to the beginning of the story. Back to the founding of this great nation and see how so many, at all levels of society, sacrificed and individually showed leadership to build our nation.

We all know the names of our Founding Fathers. However, there were tens of thousands of citizens who came forward and showed their individual leadership. Many provided food, money, housing, mules, horses, clothing, hay, boats, wagons and saddles in support of revolution. Others joined Washington in the field as citizen-soldiers. They included Joseph Hodgins, a cobbler; Rufas Putman, a farmer and surveyor; William Douglas, a shipmaster and merchant; John Trumbull, an artist; young John Greenwood, the fifer; and John Adlum, a 17-year-old private from York. And then there was Molly Corbin, the wife of Johyn Corbin, who, when he was killed in action, took his place loading artillery.

They were the people, like in "We the People," all contributing to the "more perfect union."

All in their own way showed leadership in their troubled times. They did the right thing. In the final analysis, that is what leadership is, doing the right thing.

Today, who among us would do the same?

We in our troubled time look to leadership beyond ourselves, yet the opportunity for leadership can be found in ourselves - by doing the right thing as we deal with our families, our schools and our government, and as we face the many problems that lie before us. And then we, as in "We the People," can preserve our "more perfect union."

(Bernard D. Jankowski is a retired U.S. Navy captain from Elysburg.)