Every July 5, my best friend from childhood and I would go throughout town and blow off unused fireworks.
The Fourth of July always excited me as a child. If I wasn't spinning around with a sparkler, I was throwing snappers or running around the neighborhood with my best friend thinking we were in the middle of some great battle. As the sparks flew and the bombs popped, we stuck our fingers high above and made machine gun noises as we sped down the sidewalk.
A few years later, my best friend and I created a Fifth of July celebration where we walked around town, looking for fireworks still with a wick. Only out of dumb luck did we not end up in the ER blowing off those firecrackers, bottle rockets, and such.
As time passed, so did traditions. The days of thinking as soldiers were long gone, and I certainly had no intention of looking for yesterday's powder kegs. Instead, as I approached adulthood, I attended shows and parties with friends. I spent many nights on picnic blankets, hearing pop culture and Americana tunes blast out over loudspeakers in sync with the pop and roar of the fireworks as they glistened and shimmered across the night sky. Thank you, China, for inventing the magic we use to celebrate our freedom. And, thank you, France, for gifting us Lady Liberty. It's only fitting that others have aided a nation of immigrants to celebrate its freedom.
However, we must remember those who fought and died for us on the battlefield. While July 4 recalls the Declaration of Independence commemorative signing (the actual day was July 2), we stood up to Goliath to earn that freedom. We continued to do that throughout history when we defeated the Axis powers in both the World Wars and stood up to tyranny in Vietnam, the Middle East, and other conflicts.
Our family enjoyed the presence of a terrific fallen soldier who went by the name of Ozzie. Ozzie served in the 101st Airborne Division in Vietnam. He once gifted me his jacket that read, "I know when I die, I'm going to heaven because I've already lived through hell." Ozzie hated the Fourth of July. He always said he would sit in his house with the curtains drawn because there were too many bad memories.
Today I am going to Cantigny Park in Wheaton, Ill, with my family. I'm sure Ozzie would have liked that. Cantigny Park is the former estate of Colonel Robert R. McCormick, the longtime editor and publisher of the Chicago Tribune. A history of military tanks and a military museum is part of the 500-acre grounds (Freyadmin 1).
I remember my childhood and how I innocently ran through the sidewalks playing war. I think about Ozzie, who fought in war thousands of miles from home only to hate the day we celebrate our country's freedom. I'm thirty-five years old now, and my perspective on the Fourth has changed since then, too - my little ones don't go to sleep as quickly this week, so my love for the day is not the same as it once was. However, I cannot complain because I was never in Ozzie's shoes.
Several years ago, my best friend, who helped me scavenge for those fireworks, came to visit. He said he signed up for the military and wanted to see me before starting basic training. It's funny how life sends you where you need to go. One minute we're playing war, and the next, he's getting ready for one.
This Fourth of July, I thank Ozzie, all my friends who served, my cousin, my uncle, my late grandfather, and all other veterans who continue to help our country remain free. Whenever I see a firework in the sky, I will think of you.
Freyadmin. “History.” Cantigny, 1 June 2022, cantigny.org/about-cantigny/history-mission.
Kevin Kenealy received his journalism degree from Eastern Illinois University and his English secondary education certificate from Trinity Christian College. He is also currently pursuing a master's in English Literature from Southern New Hampshire University. He worked as a reporter and designer for several local newspapers before he started teaching English, AP Lit, and journalism at the high school level. He wrote his first book, 20 Something at age 23, a book of poetry about growing up in your 20s and trying to figure yourself out. The book was featured in a local newspaper and can be found in local libraries. He completed his first novel Life and Death at age 31, a horror/thriller book that received local attention and is also featured in suburban Chicago libraries. In his latest book, Neighborhood Watch, Kirkus Reviews calls it, "Superb characters headline this chilling, slow-burn crime tale."