The Meaning of the Fourth of July
Holidays in the U.S. will almost always have a historical meaning. However, how we as individuals relate to holidays may sometimes not necessarily be in accordance with the true meaning of the holiday. For many, the idea of Christmas means shopping, giving and receiving gifts, snow, Santa Clause, and seeing the excitement of children’s faces as they open their presents on Christmas morning. The true meaning, the celebration of the birth of Christ, is somehow recognized but not really the forefront of the celebration.
The Fourth of July, or Independence Day, is one such holiday. While a good many people do recognize the holiday for what it truly stands for, most Americans do not really stop to put a lot of thought into the holiday as it comes to pass.
Memories of Independence Days past
When I was a child, Independence Day meant going to the local fair and barbecues with the neighbors. That tradition has carried on throughout my life, and each year, it is something to look forward to. The smell of charcoal grills in the neighborhood, hearing kids laugh and play with others, and the Fourth of July celebratory Parade that rolls through town are all a part of the excitement in the area.
As a teen, the Fourth of July meant meeting up with friends or even girlfriends to go to the local fair. There was Lemon Shakeups, hot dogs and sausages, and cotton candy to be had, and all while hanging out and having a great time with peers. Even the sound of the old rickety Ferris wheels still spark some fond memories of first kisses and the thrill of getting stopped at the top.
As we become adults, the Fourth of July still carries many of the same values and traditions. If you are like me, you spend a good part of the year buying fireworks and saving them to put on “the ultimate fireworks show” for the neighbors to see. It also means grilling hamburgers and hot dogs, and eating grandma’s potato salad. A good part of the excitement is just having friends over and sitting out by the campfire until the late hours of the night, reminiscing about days gone by.
All of this is just part of traditional Fourth of July celebrations in my life, but the true meaning of the Fourth of July, though we do honor it, is somehow not what we all gather to celebrate.
The true meaning of Independence Day
Last night, I sat on the bank of a river, fishing and enjoying the company of my parents. We sat and watched small fireworks from the neighborhood, and listening to the stomach rumbling booms of the large displays a couple of miles away. Every now and then, we could even catch a glimpse of some of the large rockets as they appeared above the trees.
As I sat there, I started to envision a few things that I think are important for us all to remember on Independence Day. The small bangs of firecrackers and bottle rockets were becoming sounds of musket fire repeatedly going on in the distance. In my mind, I could see fields of tall grass covered in a haze of smoke. I could see the soldiers marching through the tall grass, and stopping to fire their muskets at figures on the other side of the field. What I was seeing was the history of our countrymen, fighting for Independence. There they were, willing to die, in order to become a sovereign nation that was Independent from Britain. The shots continued to ring out, and with each distant bang, another soldier had fallen.
I continued to play out this movie in my mind. Eventually, as the larger fireworks started to erupt, the musket fire turned into machine gun fire. It became more rapid and a bit louder. I pictured our soldiers struggling to make their way through the jungles of Vietnam. Though they were not necessarily in a battle for the freedom of Americans, they were still fighting for freedom. They were there to fight for the freedom of a suppressed country. Of people that wanted nothing more than what we Americans fought for so many years ago.
I could see mortars and grenades going off and soldiers dying in the field. When the bottle rockets took off, I could envision planes making their way to drop bombs down on unsuspecting enemy. My heart sort of stopped for a second when I thought back of the time I visited the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington DC. I remembered the thousands of names on the wall, and was thinking of what they had gone through, in the name of Independence. It saddened me as I started to realize just how much of the meaning of Independence Day had been lost on me over the years. I spent so much time celebrating and had failed to remember that a large part of this holiday is filled with so much sadness.
The large fireworks were in full swing now. Though they may have been a couple of miles away, it did not prevent the reverberation from rumbling so loud we could feel the earth shake with each explosion. My mind began to play out what our soldiers might be going through today. I could see large bombs exploding off in the distance. Enemy mines and car bombs going off, killing entirely too many innocent people. Our soldiers are fighting an enemy that will kill at any cost, even if it means murdering their own countrymen, women, and children in the process.
I could see the large plumes of smoke from huge bombs on the desert horizon. I could see our soldiers desperately trying to identify the enemy that has chosen to disguise themselves as ordinary and innocent townsfolk. I was imagining what our soldiers must be going through, suffering the elements in a country they are not accustomed to. The agony caused by sand fleas and insects that relentlessly continue to bite. The overwhelming heat and the dryness of the sand filling their lungs are almost unbearable.
I could see ships on the ocean, firing rockets at targets they could not even see. I could also see children with smiles on their faces, and they were happy to see our soldiers. Citizens of the country are holding out a dim hope that the Americans could somehow restore their lives to something even close to livable conditions in a war torn country. This war was playing out in a way that seemed there was no way to win, but our soldiers do not give up. Our soldiers continue to fight for the very same reasons that our soldiers have been fighting for centuries. They are fighting for freedom, not for us, but for a country that has never seen the real face of freedom. They are fighting for the rights and liberties of a people that still do not fully understand the reward that could be waiting for them in the end. They are fighting this fight so that others in the world can experience the freedom given to us Americans so many years ago.
Honor our soldiers
As I am writing this article and most likely as you are reading this, one of our soldiers is in the battle field. He is scared, tired and wanting nothing more than to do this job and go back home to his own family. He is ready to put his life on the line in the name of freedom and leaving that family he hopes to return to.
Independence Day is not something that should be celebrated only once a year. The struggles, pain, death, and sacrifice that so many of our soldiers have given in the name of freedom deserve more than just remembrance once a year. We, that have never risked our lives for freedom, can at least offer our respect and honor for those that have. Remember the fireworks every year, and remember that soldiers all throughout history have lived those explosions. Remember that with each explosion, one of our soldiers was killed, injured, or even just scared, in the name of freedom.