For many of us the Fourth of July means barbecue -- hot, beer -- cold and fireworks to mark the birth of a nation.
Let me tell you about a Fourth when I learned how much more it means.
On a warm evening about thirty years ago we watched fireworks from the balcony of my father’s office on the East River. As the sound of the explosions bounced off the skyscrapers around us like thunder a broad, strong looking man stepped inside the office and stood in the corner his face almost paralyzed with anxiety.
I summoned my father and we went to him. The man quietly explained that the sound of rockets being shot into the air followed by the flash of lights and color and deafening noise returned him to the fields of Vietnam where he served as United States Army Ranger.
My father put his hand on his shoulder and agreed that the fireworks reminded him too of the mortar fire he experienced and the loves lost as a Marine at Iwo Jima. Within a few minutes his wife and many of the partygoers returned inside knowing that someone was not feeling well and gathered in quiet support.
The Army veteran seemed embarrassed and apologized,” I’m sorry to break up the party.” My mother responded with tears in her eyes, looking at the veterans of two wars “If it weren’t for you we wouldn’t be able to have this party.” And then the Ranger led us all back to the fireworks.
I learned a great lesson that night in downtown Manhattan. As much as we love a parade, or a barbecue, or a fireworks display or even a great political speech, July Fourth is the emotional sum of our struggles, strife and our exceptionalism as a people. Like no other people in the world we celebrate our right to speak, to assemble, to worship, to think –freely and without fear or favor. And we do it with pride understanding the price so many have paid for the privilege.
So tonight as our children marvel at the rockets’ red glare let’s make sure we surround the modest young men or women-our quiet wounded warriors of Iraq and Afghanistan who limp in to the shadows and let them know how grateful we are for their sacrifice and their courage.
When we see a young woman caring for her children and grieving the husband she lost let’s take them by the hand and announce,” If it weren’t for you we wouldn’t be having this party.” In this way we all can be reborn each and every Fourth of July.
Peter Johnson, Jr. is a Fox News legal analyst and an attorney.