It seems like it’s easy to lose the meaning of the 4th of July nowadays. With American politics getting increasingly nasty, sometimes I have a hard time remembering why we choose to celebrate America’s Independence Day.
A week ago, Casey came home with two American flags to hang in the windows of our front room. I wondered why it was she decided to buy two American flags after Memorial Day. For some reason I had completely forgotten that the 4th of July was only a week away.
A few days later, Addie came running into the kitchen wearing one of the flags as a cape. And a giant red flags shot up in my own mind, since she was doing something that would have horrified me many years ago. I quickly told Addie to put the flag back in the window and she asked why she couldn’t use the flag as a cape. I told her that we’re supposed to treat the American flag with respect. So she asked why and I was stumped trying to come up with an answer.
Being someone who is fascinated with history and the founding fathers (specifically Thomas Jefferson) and is an Eagle Scout, my lack of a competent response seemed odd and wrong.
Over the next few days I thought about what I had told Addie and I tried to remember how my family spent its 4th of July holidays.
My family would go to the parade each year and collect the candy that was thrown from the floats to the kids who lined the route. (This doesn’t happen much anymore thanks to the darn lawyers.) Following the parade, we would head up to the lake as a family and spend a few hours water skiing. To finish out the day, we would gather at the local park with extended family so we could all watch the town’s modest fireworks display.
All of these memories are good memories, but they didn’t do anything to remind me why it is we respect the flag and celebrate the 4th of July. Then I remembered my friend Santo.
Santo was an 80-year-old Italian-American living in Western New York who had become my close friend. He had fought in World War II and he rarely spoke about his time overseas fighting that war. One evening, he pulled out a scrapbook of sorts and asked if he could show me some of the pictures from his time during World War II.
He started flipping through the scrapbook and explaining where he was and how the war had been progressing at that time. About a quarter of the way through the book Santo paused and became very emotional. He explained that his troop had stumbled across a type of encampment where people had been imprisoned in horrible conditions and left for dead.
His troop hadn’t heard about the concentration camps and hadn’t been given a warning that they may stumble on such encampments. Santo was horrified by what he saw and he said it changed him forever.
Remembering what Santo went through defending the United States and the countries in Europe who badly needed defending… well. It reminded me why we respect the American flag and why the 4th of July is such an important holiday. Men and women like Santo have risked their lives so that I can enjoy my freedom.
This 4th of July I will be thinking of my friend Santo and his sacrifices and how thankful I am that there are millions of other people who have lived in America and made those same sacrifices.
Happy 4th of July to all of you!
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