Fourth of July fireworks are a tradition as old as the Republic itself. Boston and Philadelphia each held pyrotechnic displays while celebrating the first anniversary of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1777, and it only grew from there. Now fireworks are launched all over the nation from late June to early August. What better way of celebrating the Fourth than by honoring this great tradition? Doing so responsibly and respectfully – and by giving your veteran neighbors the courtesy of heads up.
It was a relaxing experience as Will drove down the lonely stretch of road one hot July afternoon – until gunshots interrupted the peaceful drive. As Will ducked his head below the windshield and driver side window and reached for his gun, he swerved off the road and barreled out across the desert. Coming to a stop, Will searched frantically. Where was it? He dared a glance up out the windshield – then remembered where he was.
He couldn’t find the weapon that should have been right beside him because it wasn’t there. He wasn’t in some Middle East hell, and it wasn’t an attack on his rig that sent him off the road, scrambling for a gun he didn’t have. He had been driving down a lonely stretch of U.S. 67 in his Chevy Cavalier, and when the fireworks spooked him, he drove off through a bean field.
This story really happened, and Will is a real combat veteran. He’s lucky his car didn’t run off into one of the irrigation ditches that cut across that field. Thankfully, the owner of the destroyed crops cut him some slack. As a Vietnam veteran, he understood all too well what Will was going through.
According to the National Center for PTSD, between 11 and 20% of veterans who served in Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom suffer from PTSD. For the Gulf War, it’s an estimated 12%. It’s between 15 and 30% for those who went to Vietnam.
As anyone who has ever heard fireworks, gunshots, and other explosions can affirm, it’s hard to tell one from another sometimes, especially from a distance. While many folk – especially those of us who live out in the woods – have grown both accustomed and indifferent to random gunfire, it’s another story entirely when you’re used to at least some of the bullets being aimed at you. Is it any wonder that so many combat vets spring into action – or at least begin to – at sudden loud noises? They’ve been conditioned to do so as a matter of survival.
PTSD doesn’t always result in extreme situations like the story from Will – often it’s just a twitch or start at the sudden loud noise. Sometimes it’s covered so well others don’t see the nervousness or the short temper that can follow.
Thanks to the sacrifices of many soldiers from days gone by, we’re free to celebrate Independence Day with fireworks – and many veterans enjoy a good kaboom just as much as the next guy, provided they know it’s coming. This year, as you celebrate the Fourth of July – not the first, second, or sixth of July, or even the fourth of August – consider who else resides in your neighborhood. If veterans live nearby, honor their service by talking to them before you surprise them with reminders of what it sounds like to be shot at.
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