Politics & Policy

Memories of the 4th

Fireworks, flag cakes, parties, and heroes.

#ad#For years, Macy’s fireworks displays were over the Hudson River. Since our apartment windows look out over that river, we always hosted parties to watch the fireworks.

One of the best July 4th’s ever was a while back. It was in 1976 — the Bicentennial year. On that 4th, hundreds of tall ships from around the world, mostly sailing ships from the 19th century, converged in New York harbor to take part in the celebration. We had an all-day party to watch them as they made their stately voyage up to the George Washington Bridge.

I remember how my sons, who were very small at the time, helped me make a Flag birthday cake. It is easy to do on any 4th of July. Just bake or buy a sheet cake and decorate it to look like Old Glory with strawberries or raspberries and blueberries — all in season — and lots of whipped cream. I remember we handed out rubber State of Liberty crowns to everyone. And in the evening we went downtown to see an enormous fireworks display in the harbor. I remember coming home, my husband and I carrying our sleeping sons, who had never been out so late before.

One of my sons, the one who had his nose pressed against the glass watching the ships most of that day, is now grown, of course, and an officer in the Navy Reserve. He works and lives in Washington, D.C., in a condo overlooking the Potomac River, with a great view of the Capitol and the Washington Monument and the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorial. Following family tradition, Jonathan, too, always hosts a 4th of July party to watch the D.C. fireworks. A couple of years ago, a friend brought a wonderful young woman to the party who loved the fireworks, the view — and, not long after, my son. They were married recently and now the two of them host an annual 4th of July celebration.

Lately, we have spent the holiday in the countryside outside of New York, in Roxbury, Connecticut. There is a fireworks display, the largest in the state, in the nearby historic town, Washington, Connecticut, which was settled in 1743. In 2005, a couple of days before the holiday, the town got some very sad news about one of their favorite sons, an extraordinary young man, Major Steve Reich. Steve, 34-years-old and a West Point graduate, had died in Afghanistan, trying to rescue some Special Forces troops. He was a company commander in the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, a unit known as “The Nightstalkers,’’ and was in command of the mission when his helicopter was shot down. This brave young man had won a Bronze Star for an earlier exploit, though he had never told his family why. Married just three months earlier, he was on his fourth tour of duty.

Steve’s dad always organized the town’s fireworks display. That July 4th would be no different. Even after the news of their son’s death reached the family, his dad chose to remain at his post. The fireworks would go on with him in charge. At 7:30 that evening, as we all gathered on the town commons, we heard the unmistakable sound of chopper bladders, and two Chinook helicopters, like the one Steve had been piloting, flew over the hushed crowd. There were few dry eyes in Washington, Connecticut, that night. And then, as Steve no doubt would have wanted, the show went on, illuminating the night sky with a tribute to our great country. And it seemed so right because, after all, that was what Steve Reich had fought and died for.

I’ve been working on a book about patriotism, and recently learned that the first official Independence Day fireworks we know of took place in 1777 when the city fathers of Philadelphia shot off 13 rockets — one for each of the states in the new Union. That went along with the sounds of bells ringing, cannons roaring, and lots of eating, drinking, and toasting the “memories of those brave and worthy patriots who gallantly exposed their lives, and fell gloriously in defence [sic] of freedom and the righteous cause of their country,” as one Virginia paper reported at the time. Two hundred and thirty years later, we are still honoring those brave enough to defend our ideals. And, as the music swells, fireworks glow, and the slices of Flag birthday cake are eaten, we still know how much we have to celebrate in our country. Happy 4th of July!

Myrna Blyth, former long-time editor of Ladies’ Home Journal and founding editor of More, is author of Spin Sisters: How the Women of the Media Sell Unhappiness—and Liberalism—to the Women of America and the upcoming How To Raise an American (out next spring from Crown Forum). Blyth is also an NRO contributor.

Myrna Blyth — Myrna Blyth is senior vice president and editorial director of AARP Media. She is the former editor-in-chief and publishing director of Ladies’ Home Journal. She was the founding editor and ...

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