When I was young, many of my peers’ grandfathers were veterans of World War I; most of the dads were veterans of World War II, and older brothers were serving in Japan, Korea and Germany. There were even a few individual who claimed to be Civil War veterans—supposedly drummer boys and buglers who had served quite young. Most of those were proven untrue, although there were widows of Civil War veterans; some veterans in their alter years married teenage brides. See Wikipedia’s story at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maudie_Hopkins. Now, all of the veterans of the wars before before World War II are gone, and those veterans, “the greatest generation” are fast disappearing.
July marks Independence Day, of course, but also the Battle of Gettysburg. I’ve already discussed how that one battle was pivotal in changing so many things and ultimately resulted in the United States becoming a world power—and I’m sure I shall again.
As a child I wanted to see the Gettysburg battlefield (I have, many times, but never enough). I wanted to see Halley’s Comet (a major disappointment; instead of the terrifying manifestation of the past, it was a fuzzy little dot you had to drive out to the country to see). And, after reading about the centennial celebrations of Independence Day, I wanted to experience the bicentennial.
John Adams and Thomas Jefferson died on the same day—the fiftieth anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, making it halfway to the centennial. Between the 150th anniversary and the 200th, the country was torn apart and patched back together.
The bicentennial for me was a combination of the enthusiasm and idealism of young adulthood, disappointment in the government for Vietnam and Watergate, yet I still had great hope for the future of the nation. I had no idea that such a future would include me.
I spent July 4, 1976 with my family at my sister’s place, which included a fair amount of land. We shot off enough fireworks to approximate the Confederate attack and Colonel Joshua Chamberlain’s defense of the Union’s west flank at Gettysburg. The smoke took hours to clear and the only casualty was one lawn chair that had suffered from the backflash of a series of roman candles.
I had my bicentennial.
Today I find it incredibly hard to believe that it was forty years ago. That since then I took an oath and served in two wars; that I served like my father and his father before him. That I have a son now serving.
My children and my grandchildren may get to see the tri-centennial. I hope it’s a wondrous celebration.