Just a couple of days ago was the official holiday to celebrate the birth of our great nation. That’s right, I am referring to Independence Day, or July 4th for those of you who would rather celebrate a calendar day.
Most of us have developed or inherited various traditions concerning this holiday. I remember going to my grandparents house as a kid for a family get together. My grandpa and uncle grilled burgers and hot dogs to perfection. My grandma and aunt made homemade ice cream. (Side note: if you have never had homemade ice cream, you haven’t really lived yet!) There were competitive games of washers and horseshoes. After lunch, we would all crack open some watermelons for a summertime treat. Finally, as evening approached, we would all load up and go somewhere to watch a fireworks display. This was always my favorite part, and it was always filled with excitement and anticipation.
Now that I am an adult, I have had the privilege of celebrating Independence Day with my own children and families. I am typically the one grilling these days, while I have some form of classic country playing close by for my listening enjoyment (and most everyone else’s listening pain). Tasty watermelons are still a good summertime treat, as is homemade ice cream if I am fortunate enough to get some.
This year, my girlfriend and I had family over for an Independence Day brunch. This was a pleasurable take on the holiday. We had a smorgasbord of various delicacies ranging from homemade waffles and breakfast casserole to BLT’s and salad for those poor souls that don’t like breakfast food. We all ate and visited for a while, then wrapped the get together up around 1:30 pm. This gave us the rest of the day to relax and enjoy the quiet……until the fireworks at night.
Remember earlier that I said that fireworks was my favorite part of Independence Day growing up? Well, things in my life have altered that opinion for me now.
During my eleven year career in the United States Army, I spent a year of it deployed to Operation Iraqi Freedom. During that year, I was stationed at LSA Anaconda, which we all affectionately nicknamed Mortaritaville. This wasn’t just a clever nickname, rather it was more realistic than any of us wanted it to be. Within the year that I was stationed at LSA Anaconda, the base received 370 indirect fire attacks. Those consisted of rockets and mortars raining sporadically down on the base. Most weren’t aimed, so there was no rhyme or reason to the targeting. But, that is getting a bit off subject for this blog post. Needless to say, after a year of getting shot at by mortars, I don’t respond well now to loud unexpected sounds, particularly of the booming variety.
There are a large number of combat veterans that have been clinically diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). I am one of them. Typically, there are certain triggers that accompany PTSD. Often, they are somehow related to the traumatic events of combat. For instance, common triggers for me are loud noises (such as thunder and fireworks, as well as hot dry weather conditions (which remind me of being in the desert of Iraq). There are others, and most veterans have different triggers related to their personal experience of combat.
That being said, fireworks are no longer my favorite part of celebrating Independence Day. In fact, I do everything that I can to avoid experiencing fireworks at all.
There was one Independence Day a few years after I returned from Iraq that I wanted to take my kids to see fireworks. I thought I would be just fine. I wasn’t. When the fireworks first started, I began to sweat and shake. Before long, the fireworks became louder and more frequent. Without realizing it, I dove out of my lawn chair onto the ground. Everyone around me gave me a puzzling look. I quickly grabbed my things and left. I was shaking so hard I couldn’t drive myself. I didn’t hardly sleep at all that night. That was the last time I tried to purposely watch fireworks.
Since that night, I have avoided going to any fireworks display. I turn into a hermit on the nights surrounding and including Independence Day. When I worked at a baseball park that did fireworks after home games, I left work early to avoid them.
Now my love for fireworks has turned into a complete avoidance of them.
That brings me to the point of this blog post. I think it is pretty ironic the way that we celebrate our Independence is through grandiose firework displays. Often military veterans are celebrated along with our country’s birthday as an honor of the military’s commitment to fight for freedom and ensure our country’s continued independence. Ironically, however, many veterans have PTSD and purposely avoid any of these celebrations. I remember my uncle, who was a Vietnam veteran, also avoiding fireworks. As a kid growing up, I could never understand why. Now, as a combat veteran myself, I get it!
I am not suggesting that our society needs to do away with Independence Day fireworks displays. But, I am suggesting that there needs to be a lot more courtesy and understanding given to military veterans in regards to how we celebrate. Be considerate of shooting fireworks off close to where veterans live. Talk to the veterans in your communities and find out their concerns regarding the holiday and fireworks. Basically, just do your best to honor those who have sacrificed and risked their lives to ensure our nations continued freedom.
That being said, I hope that all of you continue to celebrate our nation’s independence, however you choose to do so. Please remember those who have served. If you choose to participate in fireworks displays, be safe and have fun. While you are there, think of those of us who are doing our best to block out the sounds. I for one will be wearing my noise cancelling headphones with music drowning out the unwelcome booms.