Red, blue and yellow streaks appeared in the sky over Platte City a few seconds before the bangs and booms of exploding fireworks reached my home a few miles distant. They were melancholy sights in a holiday sky for me this Fourth of July. We celebrate Independence Day, freedom and those who fought to keep us free. Someone who fought for me was missing, and it made me think of all who have sacrificed for us. My father passed away a few weeks ago. He was a World War II veteran. While he lived life fully after returning home, the war left deep emotional scars that surfaced at times, especially in his later years. I’ve never been to war. But Dad’s experiences and the emotions that lingered from them made me deeply aware and appreciative of all veterans. I’ve known many other men and women, too, who bore burdens beyond their service. Some made speeches at programs in Platte County or elsewhere in the Northland, often at schools or at memorial services. Others, I had quiet conversations with. A few I wrote about. Korean War references always made me think of a man who fought in the battle of the Chosin Reservoir amidst bitter cold and death. He strove for remembrance of a too oft forgotten war. I’ll always remember a former Army nurse during the Vietnam War. She attended a school program and shared some feelings, and they were difficult feelings for speaker and listener. I’ve had friends and co-workers who served in Vietnam, and for some, combat memories are not too far beneath the surface. The Iraq and Afghanistan veterans we pass often in Platte County because many move through our community during their stays at Fort Leavenworth. I’ve had family members serve in both places, too — some away from trouble and some not. So when the fireworks are bursting in the air, I think about those who have served, this year more than ever. I suppose the rockets’ red glare reminds most people of war. The patterns and colors are beautiful. Some people like the noise. My father did not like loud and large fireworks. They brought back unpleasant memories. He did like homemade ice cream on the Fourth, burgers grilled over charcoal, grandchildren and other kin folk laughing. We also got in some baseball or Wiffle ball given a field or a big enough yard. I suspect many other veterans are the same. They are grateful for the holiday and that it is observed, but the people matter more and the freedom to celebrate, than the sparkles momentarily lighting up the sky. Veterans I have known are always glad to celebrate courage and sacrifice made for freedom and this country’s role in the world, but they do not glorify what they have done or seen in combat. Video games about war, mostly played by the young, are selling like hotcakes because the players do not know or even begin to fathom war’s true bitterness. Others have fought so the young might avoid knowing war first hand. Even in Platte County, it is easy to know the facts but difficult to truly realize the feelings of those who lived here 150 years ago amid the Civil War. The teenage boys and men in that era rode the brush with guerilla fighters or fled the deadly Missouri-Kansas border region with their families to avoid bloodshed and death. Or they joined the regular armies and marched toward uncertain fates. This year’s Fourth has come and gone but the news goes on from around the world about war in various places. Our nation is politically divided; emotions run high. But at least we can go watch the fireworks together on a holiday and then cast ballots later to let democracy decide public policy. I’m so grateful for all who make noisy yet peaceful Fourth of July holidays possible — past, present and future.
Bill Graham, who lives in the Platte City area with his family, may be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.