Most July 4th celebrations, for me, were the rural kind. We lived 2 miles outside the city limits and 200 yards from the nearest house. Our meager fireworks haul was not much more than a few fountains, black snakes and poppers. I took my kids to the big show on occasion and there were the huge thunder booms I've come to expect from them. This year was different.
I was invited to a friends home and his fireworks alone trumped my entire collection from my boyhood. These things were no meager fountains. They were cannons. When dusk set, three houses down the block began their go, another display exploded over the park about a block west, and a monster display to the north kicked in. Soon, in turn and sometimes all those together, the entire block was playing some sort of strange orchestrated war movie in my mind.
The colors were beautiful, of course, though somewhere just beyond that, the smell of sulfur and brimstone, the explosions, squeals and pops, I couldn't help consider “this is how we celebrate our freedom, by recreating a war zone”? Short of dead bodies and rubble desecrating the streets, that's what it was. There was flack in the air, smoke screens, machine gun fire and screaming tracers zigging through the sky.
The “war” would swing close, right next to me at times, blips of muzzle flash in the street and hot shrapnel floating through the trees to burn my skin and ash my hair and people yelling “get out of there, Joe!” Then it would move away with far off booms of artillery cannons, distant M60 bursts and bright flares lighting the sky.
My thoughts floated above the smoke to the veterans, the PTSD combatants; I wondered how they feel about this block turned war zone. I could only conclude they would be diving for cover behind a couch bunker or sliding into a basement foxhole. There were moments that I had an urge to.
I have seen more war movies than I can count; listened to several sound effect enhanced, audio books on war. I can imagine it vividly, still, I could never truly understand what our troops face in war, though, for a brief slice I was there in the trenches with them. I can not fathom their bravery and sacrifice, on the home front as well as in combat.
I am so grateful for the lengths you have gone, what you have given up, and what you have given me and my children. In the most powerful, touching words I can recollect, from Saving Private Ryan, “I hope that I have lived my life in such a way that I have earned what you have done for me.”