It’s already starting – the anxiety, moodiness and grief caused by the sounds of fireworks as the Fourth of July nears. I was forever changed 46 years ago in Vietnam, fighting a war whose purpose I wasn’t sure of. The sounds, sights and smells of combat haunt me now more than ever before. Something triggers a sense that takes me back like it was yesterday.
My family knows something is going on, especially at this time of year. They see the anxiety and dread of the emotional roller coaster that is around the corner. The evening of July Fourth is always spent with the windows closed and the volume of the TV or stereo on high, as I try to distract myself from the bangs and booms from thousands of fireworks filling the night air. And it’s not just on the Fourth; fireworks have already started and will last for a week or more after the holiday.
For many combat veterans, fireworks resemble the sounds of small arms and machine gun fire, mortar and rocket attacks and exploding land mines. They trigger memories of the subsequent cries of pain, the silence of death, the smell of blood and the feelings of fear and anxiety. This is no way to live, no way to celebrate a national holiday and no way to treat our country’s veterans.
Give us a break, please. Let the towns, villages and Buffalo Bisons provide the fireworks displays. I can handle those because they happen in one location, from one direction, at a set time. I can control the anxiety, compartmentalize it and move on. But being surrounded by thousands of small explosions in rapid sequence makes this difficult. As a result, July Fourth is anything but a celebration.
People think of war as a distant event with a senseless loss of life. Most never know the truth of combat and what soldiers go through. It’s far uglier and bloodier than you can imagine; it’s scarier than your worst nightmare. When it’s over, we are different people. We leave it behind us the best we can. Some are successful, some are not. It doesn’t get easier as we get older, and fireworks make it worse.
Aren’t fireworks illegal in New York? Why is there no enforcement of the law? I recently received a mailer advertising fireworks for sale. I’m not a grumpy, old man who wants to suppress my neighbors’ right to celebrate our great country’s independence, I’m just a combat veteran who is tired of hiding from the ghosts of war.
Every year The Buffalo News runs an article about the danger of handling fireworks. Why not run an article about our veterans and the effects fireworks have on them? Out of respect for their service and post-traumatic stress, we as a community should refrain from using fireworks.
Americans were appalled to learn that veterans were dying while waiting for services from their local VA hospitals, and demanded that the quagmire and corruption be fixed. But that problem was caused by other people, and it’s easy to make demands of others. This is our problem. Correcting this disservice takes action on our part as individuals. You have to tell your kids, “no fireworks,” and ask your neighbors to please stop using them for veterans’ sake.
It takes a platoon to fight a war, bound by brotherhood, and a commitment to survive. It will take a community effort to bring the use of fireworks to a halt. Please join the effort.