Happy Independence Day, Everybody!
When you think of the Fourth of July, you may think of John Hancock putting his well, John Hancock on the Declaration of Independence. You may think of freedom for all people. Or maybe you’re just glad to have a day off work and eat a hot dog or two.
Is this song playing in your head? Yeah, me too. (Soup Dragons, I’m Free)
Usually for the 4th of July Steve and I stay home. We can easily see fireworks from our front or back yard and we’d just rather not deal with a huge crowd on a holiday weekend. You may think we’re old, but I’d prefer to think we are content. So there.
In the past few years, new neighbors have moved into our area. We live on a cul-de-sac and there is a huge retention pond area behind our house. Apparently, these are both perfect areas to stage an amateur fireworks show. Some folks like to start the festivities a couple of days before just to test out the potency of their stash. Hopefully, you won’t be carrying a hot bowl of soup when this happens, because I promise you will soon be cleaning that hot soup off of your shirt and the floor. In our neighborhood, we like to set off one or two really loud boom-booms randomly throughout the day. We don’t want anyone relaxing or becoming complacent in their freedom celebrations.
Although Steve and I very much look forward to the professional city spectacle, we dread the DIY pyromaniac show. It goes on for days. Starts at 11am and goes until midnight or later. Yes, you’re right fireworks are illegal in Illinois, that’s very astute of you. But they are legal in Indiana which is very close by. In Indiana, there are dozens of fireworks-only shops that sell stuff with a “buy one, get 8 free” theme. I can assure you, no one bought just one.
The afternoon started off with Steve having to give the evil eye to our neighbors because they were lighting off their firecrackers (yeah, I said firecrackers) directly over our house. One does not enjoy a holiday when fearing the house will burn down. I’m talking full-on fireworks here. Not the snakes and snaps of my youth. And it wasn’t even dark outside! Steve must be very intimidating because our friendly neighbors aimed their arsenal at someone else’s house.
Once it got dark all bets were off. It was like everyone was vying for the “Champion Badass” title. We walked to the park at the end of our block to watch the city show and saw several “shows” all around us. Steve brought a can of beer with him and I was nervous about him getting caught with it. “Are you kidding?” he said, “there are obviously no cops around here.” Good point.
After the professional show, we ran for cover back to our abode. Our drunk neighbors were just getting started and we didn’t want to take any shrapnel. The conversation continued…we live with a cat. Her name is Sadie. She is afraid of many things, loud booms being one of them. She’s not the only one. Raise your hand or your eyebrow if your pooch or kitty freaks out every Fourth of July. Okay, Amanda, Linda, Susan, Donna…you get it, I’m not going to actually count you all. Maybe you’ve seen that compression vest you can buy for a dog to calm him down. Or maybe your pet just flips out either way. Poor Sadie recently suffered a stroke. That’s the bad news. The good news is she’s lost a good portion of her hearing. This was the first year she didn’t hide under the bed for 2 days. As we were congratulating Sadie for being so brave, we started thinking about others who may not like fireworks…like veterans who suffer with PTSD. I did a little research.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2014 there were 19.3 million veterans living in the United States. Here’s the breakdown:
7 million vets from the Vietnam War – 15 out of 100 suffer from PTSD, but up to 30 out of 100 have suffered from PTSD in their lifetime.
5.5 million vets from Desert Storm and Iraqi Freedom — 11-20 out of 100 suffer from PTSD
It’s harder to gather how many older veterans suffer from PTSD. The culture was very different then. Men didn’t talk about such things, but here’s how many vets there are from other wars.
1.1 million vets from World War II
2.0 million vets from the Korean War
4.4 million vets who served during peace time.
This is a quote from an article I found on this very topic:
‘An estimated 11 to 20 percent of veterans of the post-9/11 Iraq and Afghanistan wars were diagnosed with PTSD, according to data from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. While fireworks don’t trigger PTSD for all soldiers or veterans, it seems to be a more common occurrence in recent years. Cindy Ramminger, coordinator of the PTSD clinical team at Robley Rex Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Louisville, said fireworks were an issue for veterans from as far back as the Vietnam and Gulf wars.’
What I’m trying to tell you is that there are a lot of veterans among us. I can’t image the men and women from our armed forces take joy or comfort in hearing loud explosions that sound like bombs in their own neighborhoods. Isn’t the Fourth of July supposed to be another day to honor them? Don’t we always say they are fighting for our freedoms? I wonder if anyone has ever considered their feelings.
Cindy Ramminger, what do you think?
‘It can remind them of what might sound like an incoming rocket or mortars or gunfire, which can cause them to get on alert and it can cause them to be frightened,” Ramminger said. “It can push them into a flashback (and) can cause intrusive thoughts, so they’ll start remembering a traumatic event like when they got blown up in an IED attack or lost a friend to some kind of explosion.’
I decided to ask a couple of veterans I know for their thoughts. One man I spoke to was a Navy SEAL in combat. He said he doesn’t mind the fireworks and is able to distinguish the noise of fireworks from actual combat sounds. I found it interesting that he does not like to discuss his time as a SEAL at all. I know it’s not because he’s not proud or a patriot. Maybe he has figured out how to separate that part of his life from his civilian life. I am genuinely happy for him that he has been able to find peace in his civilian life.
I also talked with another man who was in the Air Force for 5 years. Three of them were served in the U.S. and 2 in Europe. Fortunately, he did not see any combat. He let me know that he does not suffer from PTSD, but acknowledges that amateur fireworks could be a potential trigger for a veteran that is afflicted. I asked him if we should be more mindful of the meaning of the holiday and other national holidays. He said yes and pointed out that fireworks should not be the sole focus of Independence Day. (The holiday, not the Bill Pullman movie about aliens.)
And what about people from war-torn countries who lived with these horrible noises for years? People who came to the United States to escape bombs and explosions? It must be awful for them to endure such a loud holiday. I don’t personally know anyone who is a refugee so I can’t ask them, but it would be an interesting question to ask them.
It seems a weird tradition to me anyway. We celebrate our independence from England by making loud noises with boom-booms from China. Don’t get me wrong, they are absolutely beautiful and I love watching a professional show. In fact, I got engaged with watching fireworks at Navy Pier. Fireworks have a special place in my heart…when done by professionals at an appointed time and place.
I would think the answer here is to leave the fireworks to the professionals. Seems like every town has a spectacular display for you to enjoy. That way everyone can enjoy the holiday. Veterans and other people who are affected will know the time and place of fireworks and can plan accordingly. I suppose it all goes back to being mindful of others. There certainly seems to be a lack of that going around lately. I think we have become a selfish society. Kind of a “screw you, I’m gonna do what I want” mentality. “It’s my right, I don’t care.” It makes me sad. I see it while driving, while standing in line at the store and especially on Facebook.
Here’s my final thought…say there’s a veteran in your neighborhood. She’s a good woman. She may be a Mom and work a civilian job just like you. She served her county and loves her country, but she saw some pretty hard shit. It’s tough for her to talk about. Her holiday isn’t a pleasant one because of the loud, random booms coming from your house. Perhaps she has to completely leave the area and go somewhere more secluded. Would you still keep lighting off all those huge rockets and M80’s if you knew that? If you knew it really upset a veteran in your neck of the woods, would you do it? Let’s all try to be nice to each other. It will make everyone feel better.