I hate July 4th
Not trying to rag on a great National holiday... neither am I trying to be ungrateful to a great Nation. The truth is I hate July 4th. As a child our Aunt would take us to see fire-works and I thought that was purely magical!
I wanted to share the same with my own daughter. When she turned 3. I was very excited to take her to Millander to see the fireworks with the “big kids'” and it was a huge family event... a milestone in her growth.
The family was pure electric-volt excitement as we readied her, bathed and dressed her, loaded her in the car-seat and drove a ways to get to the park.
My Pappaw was giddy with excitement. He nearly skipped the four blocks from the parking to the bleachers. He held her hand and practically dragged us to the top, “First time, best view,” he bragged repeatedly. Reminding us it was his birthday and teasing my little girl all the while that the holiday was his birthday party. (It sort of was actually, it being his birthday as well.) I'd not seen him that excited in years!
We happily waited, drinking slushies, waiting for the popcorn vendor when the lights dimmed. Two small fireworks went off. I thought I heard him weeping. I ignored my instinct to ask. Thinking maybe... I was over-imagining. I've always had an overly-active imagination.
But by firework four there was no more doubt. Pappaw jumped up from the bleachers, screaming, shouting, desperately... hysterical. My daughter, frightened, followed suit. She had no idea what was wrong. I didn't right away either. It wasn't until he began yelling... what I can only call, “Marine-type codes” that I figured it out.
My Pappaw mistook the fireworks for a war-zone and was transported back to Korea. In his mind the danger and desperation, the panic was real. It grew much worse with every bang. Some very nice people near us, who didn't speak English, figured it out too. They helped us get him down, calm him and he was able to walk us back to the car.
The night became a blur of awkward apologies, of the unseen chink in the armor that had been so closely guarded that I never believed it existed. The next day things were relatively normal again... and I failed ever to mention it as I felt what Nanna explained as “Shell-shocked,” and Pappaw shrugged off as “failure to adjust to his gout medicine” (Yes he really said that) I never brought it up again. I didn't want to embarrass him. He was a Marine. A total and complete badass!
But once I put myself in his place... I realized being brave doesn't mean you aren't afraid when people are shooting at you. Anyone who wouldn't be afraid of bullets coming at them is a moron. It means that you do it afraid.
Courage... true courage... allows you to have weakness, even panic. True courage means you keep on going just the same. My Pappaw fought, watched friends die, villages burn and as in any war faced a horror daily that very few that enjoy freedom will ever be capable of or even understand. He was lucky enough to come home.
Very lucky. Wasn't he? Because if you think about it bravery and luck rarely have much to do with one another. He was brave enough to bare those gruesome memories and go to work every morning... even if remembering destroyed a good night's sleep … or roused him with nightmares. Even then he faced life, raised a family and internally carried the quiet burden of what freedom truly costs, even when people abused it, ignored it, or belittled it. That's true bravery. That's a true hero.
And there are so many millions more. Suffering silently. Men and women who returned safely home... and never told us that parts of their souls were Missing In Action, that their ability to sleep, sometimes even function had gone AWOL.
I have only one thing to say about that... Once A Marine, Always A Marine. Once a hero... Eternally A Hero.
To those who've served... I am forever in your debt!
Happy Birthday, Pappaw.
That's my side of it,