As we approach July 4, each of us has experiences we recall from the past that help us appreciate our celebration of independence as a country a little bit more. It is more than a BBQ day. It is more than a day to take for granted our freedoms. Many of my most poignant memories occurred during my military service, and in particular when I was not at "home" here in New Hampshire.
In the summer of 1983, I was a Green Beret serving my country abroad. Like it was yesterday, I recall reporting to the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv, Israel. The embassy is situated along a busy block, and Israeli Star of David flags adorn most of the buildings. Those flags too spoke of independence. However, in the middle of the block, and standing out by itself, flew the red, white and blue flag of the United States of America, my country. I felt quite proud in that moment to see her, and appreciated being an American in a foreign country, and in one that welcomed me so openly. Only weeks earlier, I had been in another country, which lacked some of the same freedoms Americans are able to take for granted. I arrived at the airport, to depart, and the border guards processed our passports. However, due to maintenance being done, they announced they had to transport us by bus to an alternate airport for our departure. We would travel through a typical small town in the country. In good english, the border guards announced that we could take photographs while traveling between the airports. They continued in full seriousness that we would then be delayed for four hours, and would not make our departing flight, while our film was developed to determine what we found to be of such interest. I appreciated at that moment the kind of freedoms we as Americans enjoy.
Years earlier, I had been in Europe over July 4, and had time to visit the castle at Heidelberg, Germany in early July. They celebrate the burning of the castle with a huge fireworks display and I happened to be there when it occurred. The castle served as the backdrop as fireworks exploded over the Neckar River. To me, it was my fourth of July celebration since I could not be at home.
July 4 over another year found me stationed in Alaska. It was with great pride that I marched in the Fairbanks July 4 parade as a member of Charlie Co.(Airborne), and later that day participated in the parachute jump as part of the July 4 celebrations. We then helicoptered out to the glaciers for technical ice training and mountaineering training, leaving Fairbanks behind. It reminded me somewhat of my experiences in N. Conway, in the late 1960s, when my Manchester Boy Scout troop would stay at the Kangamangus Campground, hike the mountains, and march in the N. Conway July 4 parade.
The summer of 1982, while I was in the midst of Special Forces training, we actually had a day off on July 4, a rare respite. I caught the fireworks display at Ft. Bragg, NC that year, and noticed standing near me one of my primary Special Forces instructors, then Major Robert Howard, Medal of Honor winner from Vietnam as a Green Beret. I felt quite humbled to be able to enjoy the fireworks over Ft. Bragg in the company of such an American hero, and hoped over the next two months to beat the over 50% attrition rate and prove myself worthy.
The July 4th after my graduation from West Point I will never forget. One of my closest friends had been seriously injured in a car accident while coming to visit me at West Point months prior to my graduation. That July 4, no longer in the hospital, we were able to place her carefully in my jeep, drove down to Derryfield Park in Manchester, and were allowed to pull the jeep through the barriers to park it on the side of the lawn so she could enjoy the city fireworks. She is one of the people I see in the exploding stars now in the sky every July 4 because I know she continues to keep an eye on me.
My 26-year-old son will not recall the fireworks display at Ft. Devens at the time he was 2, when his dad was part of the 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne), but every year we as soldiers took pride in being a part of keeping our country free and independent.
When I myself was very young, my father provided the fireworks show in our neighborhood. I thought it was neat to be the kid whose dad blew off the fireworks. This occurred for a number of years. More recently, in the last ten years, and despite some protest for my safety from my daughters, I served as the fireworks meister for the Stinson Lake fireworks show, outside of Plymouth and Rumney. And every July 4 week in past years Air Force reserve pilots out of Connecticut would use the mountains around Stinson Lake for their nap of the earth terrain training in A-10 Thunderbolts. Those excercises proved to be as much a part of the July 4 Independence Day celebration fror me as the fireworks at night. The fireworks honor has now gone to a professional, but each year there is an opportunity to appreciate with my family that we enjoy our freedoms, and our independence, because other soldiers, like those pilots, remain on duty today serving this country, and serve with the pride of keeping us protected. Heartfelt thanks to them, and God bless America this July 4, 2008.