How will you celebrate the Fourth of July?

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Judy Stoltmann
  • 366th Medical Operations Squadron
While growing-up in Milwaukee, Wis., we had a huge parade on the south side of Milwaukee that I actually marched in as part of our school and church display. We would usually have a cook-out in the afternoon with relatives, which included watermelon seed spitting contests. But the highlight of the holiday was the fireworks display at night.

Milwaukee had numerous neighborhood fireworks displays. If you were lucky, you were in an area of the city where you could watch more than one show during the night. I think the reason I liked the fireworks so much, was because it was one of the few nights I was allowed to be outside at night and allowed to sit on the hood of the family car to watch the fireworks.

I always thought the reason we had fireworks on the Fourth of July was to recreate the bombardment of Fort McHenry during the war of 1812, which inspired Francis Scott Key to write the Star Spangled Banner. While doing the research for this commentary, I learned that it is a widely believed myth. Fireworks had been used throughout the world; and even in the colonies before the Declaration of Independence was ever signed, to celebrate special events. It was John Adams who predicted that the approval of the Declaration would be celebrated every year with pomp, parades and fireworks.

Although watching fireworks was the highlight of the Fourth while I was growing-up, the tradition started fading when I joined the service. Although we had two small children, my husband and I didn't make it a priority to take them to see the fireworks. We made excuses like, "They are too young to appreciate them," or "It's just not worth the hassle for 20 minutes of fireworks." When our children got older, we asked if they wanted to go watch the fireworks, and since they really didn't know what they were missing, they would always decline.

I'm not sure what happened last year, but our family actually went out to the golf course in Mountain Home to watch the fireworks. My son, now 23; his fiancé; my 16-year-old daughter and I (my husband was absent due to his job of protecting the gate at base) sat watching the fireworks display with big smiles on our faces with the occasional "ooh" and "ah" escaping our lips. This, to me, is the Fourth of July - Independence Day - the celebration of our United States of America.

Sometimes, due to our military duties and being apart from our family and friends, we lose traditions that have been part of us since childhood. Whether it's carving pumpkins on Halloween, having a big turkey dinner on Thanksgiving or watching fireworks on the Fourth of July, traditions are an important part of our lives. This year, I challenge you to recreate a tradition you've forgotten or even start a tradition of your own. As years go by, these traditions will help you and your family to remember what is most important in your lives.

So, this year, I plan on watching the fireworks with my family again. I'm looking forward to the smiles and the oohs and ahs. How do you plan on celebrating the Fourth of July?