Admiring our newly erected American flag, I look over the garden area where it stands and I am thankful. Our home is the place where everyone gathers for the 4th of July celebration. I suspect that it’s because the concrete basketball court serves as an excellent ‘staging’ area for fireworks. Although the kids are old enough to use a match without supervision, they still return home to celebrate the holiday with us.
Growing up, the 4th of July was the highlight of my summer. I was raised a military brat and war was more than just something in a history book. There’s something about the military that stays in your blood. You may leave the service but the service never leaves you.
I remember standing for hours on a dock waiting for the U.S.S Kittyhawk or Nimitz to pull into port and return my father from months at sea duty. I can still recall the smell of his sea bag and the sound in the middle of the night as we received over-seas calls from Hong Kong.
Because we lived in military housing, all the families left behind often waited together for news of the sailors’ safety. Everyone knew everyone. These were the days of party lines and Dippity Doo! Every adult was your parent and we called anyone over the age of sixteen Sir and Mam’. We took care of each other. New births, your best Easter dress and loss of teeth were all recorded with a camera for dad to see. It was tough. We missed him when he was gone but we understood the importance of his job.
There was great anticipation as the long line of sailors in their blues or dress whites stood at attention manning the rails of the flight deck when they pulled into port. The war to us meant, every time a ship pulled out of port, it brought the reality this could be the last time we saw our fathers, sons, brothers, and husbands.
In the military, the 4th of July is celebrated almost as extensively as Christmas! The day was kicked off with a parade. My friends and I decorated our bikes with long streaming red, white, and blue ribbons. We pinned playing cards to the spokes of our wheels so they sounded like motorcycles. We were placed behind the honor guard with its huge American flag flying just over their heads, and in front of the floats that carried war veterans. Once we arrived at the fair grounds we were met by Uncle Sam on stilts, bandstands and enough food to feed an entire platoon. There were games of strategy and games of luck, if you had a mind to.
All the kids in the neighborhood would plan to meet at the corn on the cob booth at a certain time. We would then make the rounds playing games and eating until we couldn’t move. The adults listened to bands, and generally got reacquainted. Everyone would be sunburned and exhausted when we piled back into the cars to drive to the dock just as the sun was setting. Dad would put a blanket on the hood of the car and we would join the chorus of ‘OH’s’ and ‘awe’s’ as the fireworks began. There are a lot of things the military does right, but when it comes to patriotism and fireworks, no one can out do them.
I was trained at 5 years old; to stop instantly and face toward the flag while it was raised or lowered at the sound of reveille or taps. It didn’t matter if you were in a rousing game of Red Rover, or a neighborhood sandlot baseball game; you stopped, placed your hand over your heart and stood still for the entire song. What’s more, you knew where the nearest flag was and you knew all the words to the songs played.
I retired from the Navy life when my dad did in 1974. It doesn’t matter that I was never enlisted, I lived the military life. I had an ID card, knew what the PX was for and understood that if the MPs’ or SPs’ were after you, it was serious trouble. So, when Dad retired, we were thrown into civilian life and it scared me. At the local high school, no one called adults ‘sir’ or ‘mam’. Kids my age talked back to teachers and no one scolded or grounded them. But recently, I spent the day on an Army base and felt ‘at home’ again.
But more than just being familiar to my senses, the military way of life hasn’t changed. It is comforting to know patriotism, honor, and pride in a job well done are still the mainstay taught to the young men and women we call soldiers. Salutes are still crisp, and uniforms although they have evolved are still worn with pride.
I attended some of the meetings for family members to help support soldiers as they went off to war and I can vouch for the strength that still remains constant in our troops and their families. Time has not tainted honor and tradition in our young men and women.
During a decade when we might take our precious freedoms for granted, it is encouraging to see our young people eager and willing to protect this land we call American. They still protect our way of life.
I sit in my garden preparing to share a meal with my family without the threat of being shot or bombed. I sleep at night without fear of being yanked out of my home and thrown into the streets. I worship in a church of my choice, and I participate in freely speaking my mind.
The large American flag erected in the garden waves to me as if it were an old friend. It beckons me to slow down and cherish even the simplest moments; to pay attention to what I have, rather than notice it when it’s gone. Her steadfast colors insist I utilize the power of prayer on behalf of our soldiers at war.
But mostly her bright red, white and blue colors, flying unencumbered over my yard announces patriotism is not dead, nor forgotten. It is right that her majestic colors stir powerful emotions. But mostly she smiles from my garden to remind me that Heroes are not a thing of the past and regardless of which branch of the military they serve, they bravely represent the colors of my heart.