"You don't forget anything like that - you wouldn't. You remember that for the rest of your life." - Corporal Fred Bromley, 84th Chemical Weapons Company, Royal Engineers, 6 June 1944 - D-Day
As I do every 4th of July, I sit in the dark on my screened deck that looks out over the cove where I live. I sit there, eyes closed, sipping my favorite happy juice and toking on a Macanudo, and listen to the local fireworks downriver. Across from the city park is a rock bluff that rises about hundred feet above the Tennessee River. It’s from a small flat area at the top of this bluff that those in charge have launched fireworks out over the river and back toward the city for decades. A few thousand spectators line the park and highway along the water to watch the colorful displays as they OOH and AH with family and friends.
The sounds from the explosions travel the river, following the conductivity of the rising fog some ten, maybe fifteen miles to reach my ears, but in my mind they are much further away. It's never really a comfortable experience, yet I'm drawn to it each year.
Tonight I was a little more anxious than usual. The humid air and the evening’s rain dripping from the forest canopy made the night feel and smell like several I remember from, GOSH…has it been 39 years. It's still there! With eyes closed listening, I could taste the air as if it was yesterday - the fear was bitter in my throat and the pit in my stomach was hollow and empty. The muffled two syllable KA-CHUNK that preceded the aerial blast in the distance took me back...way back - “INCOMING”!
I remember staring out into the near total blackness from the alerted base, hoping to see something before it saw me, and yet I was conscious of the distant thumping, like the beating of a giant monster's heart - another firebase was under attack. I was 8,000 miles from home, alone in the dark, praying the night's trouble stayed distant and didn’t come to us as it had many times before. However, I knew that meant someone else was much closer to the danger and may have even being dying, but selfishly I continued to pray. “Keep it away, keep it away, oh please, at least until the light comes”!
My first 4th of July back home in 1967 was celebrated across the lake from “the bluff”. With my back to the darkening lake talking to old friends, the first hollow KA-CHUNK that spit from the mortar as the first firework was launched sent me into auto-mode and flat on my belly behind the highway guardrail. Everyone, in their innocence, laughed and pointed at me. “What’s wrong with him?”
As soon as the star-burst shell exploded in the night sky behind and above them, I knew exactly what it was and that it was no threat, but I was still 8,000 miles away listening to the distant thumps echoing up the valleys and through the steamy jungle to my ears. Naturally I was very embarrassed and very pissed, but deep inside I was glad too that they had never had to be on “auto-mode”.
Happy 4th everyone! - I'm so thankful tonight that I could open my eyes and see that I was here and not 8,000 miles way – home safe! Then I remember there are new young men and women still experiencing the man-made thunder far from home today. It’s not distant to them and never will be again.
God bless them, because it will always be there!
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