As every American boy should, I have very fond memories of Independence Day celebrations growing up. My parents usually loaded up my sisters and I for a trip to the county fairground. The 4th always came at a good time for a bored kid on summer break from school. After a month out of class you begin to start running out of things to do, at least in the 80's and 90's before the internet and gaming was a given for every most household. For a small town in Northwest Georgia , the community where I was raised had a fairly respectable gathering every 4th of July and the fireworks shows could hold their own with most any I've seen since. As memorable as these times were, even combined, they would never come close to matching even one of the next two experience I am about to share with you.
My senior year of high school, I joined the Marines. I would be attending Boot Camp at Parris Island , South Carolina a few weeks after graduation in May of 2000. I arrived on the Island June 26th before midnight, and just over a week later our newly introduced drill instructors would get us into some semblance of a formation and "march" our sorry tails over to the famous Parris Island parade deck, where 12 weeks later we would graduate. That night, however, we were still just filthy, rotten scum of the earth recruits. The first few weeks are the ones that make you miss home, and cause you to ask yourself questions like "what the hell have I gotten myself into?" As we sat on the hallowed asphalt with "left hand left knee, right hand right knee, back straight, mouth shut," we all faced straight ahead over the marshes that separated us from the rest of humanity. These same marshes that looked towards Buford would, this particular night, provide us all with a taste of home and fill us with a sense of pride possibly unmatched to this point in our young lives. Soon after dark, the Parris Island Marine Band began to perform beautiful versions of patriotic and military songs that we all knew by heart. They kept right on playing while one of the largest and most spectacular formal fireworks shows I have ever seen went off over the swampy waters to the west. It was quite an experience, and for a short time I was home in North Georgia eating a funnel cake at the Cherokee Capital Fair Grounds with my family. If only for a few moments, I was home.
Normally this would be where the story ends, but I was not done with Uncle Sam, and he was far from done with me. By 2004 I was out of the Marines and trying my hand a college. It wasn't going so well, and I was bored. I joined my local Army National Guard unit and after a few months in, as expected, we received orders to Iraq . I had, for some reason, wanted to go. Not for some blind sense of patriotic duty, or for love of country, but more for adventure and other selfish reasons. By the summer of 2005 the 1/108th Armor Battalion found itself smack dab in the middle of the "Triangle of Death" operating in the area in and around the cities Mahmudiyah, Latifiyah, and Yusufiya. It was dangerous and we wouldn't make it out without significant losses. I ended up a member of the battalion commander's PSD (Personal Security Detail). We did a little bit of everything, and rarely was it safe, but we often made it fun and bearable. I would spend this Independence Day in the company of my brothers on Forward Operating Base Saint Michael.
We had quite a nice spread, for a place that only served two meals a day in a tent secured with ply wood, and somehow the higher ups had managed most of the food luxuries from home. We had steaks, beans, potatoes, hot dogs, burgers with all the fixins. The only thing we lacked, of course, was ice cold beer. EOD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal), unknown to most of us had been out in a nearby field all afternoon stacking up old confiscated explosives into a huge pile and during our dinner they set them off into the most beautiful and chaotic displays of fireworks I ever saw. I am positive that the site of rockets and mortars being destroyed for the betterment of one country's safety, while in celebration of the freedom of another, will remain in my mind as possibly the most interesting holiday experience of my entire life. I will be surprised if it is ever matched. Even In the most sever or dangerous of circumstances, Americans can, and will celebrate. Our freedom means a lot to us and we love to just have good old fashioned fun. Even in combat, there's always time to let your "hair" down a bit and party it up for the good old U-S of A.