Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Sparklers and Fireworks: Celebrating My Dad & the 4th of July

The Independence Day celebrations are quickly approaching. As with most things patriotic the Fourth of July was always special with my family growing up, and even afterwards. For as long as my Dad was alive we celebrated the day grandly and as a family. He is gone now, but the Fourth of July makes me happy, like a little girl waiting for her Daddy to light the sparkler and give it to her in the dark of the day.

My Dad was a World War II veteran. He received the bronze star. The only thing he ever said about it was that he did what he had to do. At his funeral an old friend of his who had served in the war with him said, "It had something to do with a building and a lot of Germans with guns." I asked my Dad's friend for more information and he just smiled like I've seen a lot of Vets smile. It said quite plainly, "If he didn't tell you when he was alive I'm not going tell you now."

Being the creative sort I have tried to come up with scenarios and each time I fail. Not because my imagination isn't good, but because my Dad never wanted me to know what he had done in the war, so I always let it go. About the only other thing I have been able to discover is that it is the "real" bronze star awarded for valor in the line of combat.

My Dad was a hero for my country, one of many who fought and thankfully survived that war. When we celebrated the Fourth it wasn't to celebrate a hero (although he was to all of his girls), we celebrated having him with us and us with him. He celebrated living and being alive as well as the country he fought for still being free: It was still America. And when we lit the sparklers and the pinwheels it was the greatest because we were all together as a family and as a nation.

After lighting out sparklers and pinwheels and singing the national anthem, we would either go downtown to see the fireworks or we would watch the show the neighbor boys would put on for us all. I enjoyed their show more than the one downtown, even though both fireworks displays were over sooner than we all wanted.

We could have hand fireworks, and sometimes we did, but I noticed that when we did the fireworks my Dad never slept as well that night or a couple of nights afterwards. Maybe it reminded him of the war. He was honest when he said he was not proud of what he had to do or did in the war, it was just him trying to survive and come home to his family. "I left a boy and came back a man," he would say, but never with pride. It was just a general statement of fact. And on the Fourth of July he permitted himself to celebrate the fact he had made it back alive, and the entire family celebrated having him with us.

I can remember the glances he and my Mom would sometimes exchange. It wasn't a "knowing" glance, but it was something special and important. She had made it through as well. She had given him four loving daughters. She was there with him at all times. She was his love, and he was hers. The family began with them and even now they are our example.

This Independence Day I am going to celebrate with joy and happiness because my Dad made it back from a war I read about in my history books. I will enjoy the food and the firework displays in acceptance of my Mom's sacrifices for a man she loved until she drew her last breath. I salute and honor all of those who have fallen fighting in all of the wars this country has had to go through in the past, and currently. But, most importantly, I celebrate and honor all of those soldiers in so many branches who have actually made it back and are re-discovering their lives as free men, and not just soldiers. I ask you to also do the same.

Happy Fourth of July everyone.

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