Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Why I Don't Like Fireworks

Christmas and New Year's Day come and go, and then the lighted Christmas tree comes down. My wife Kathleen loves displays of light, including decorated buildings and fireworks.

When we've had winter rain, the fireworks ban is lifted, and people rush to stock up for New Year's Eve. So there's plenty of commotion that night, even out here in the country.

People love fireworks. For most Americans, they are associated with celebration and fun. When a hundred points of light fill the sky along with a big boom, people thrill to the spectacle. They associate the smell of gunpowder with hot dogs and watermelon. Maybe some have patriotic feelings about “the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air.”

For me, though, fireworks aren’t fun or inspiring. My problem is that they remind me of real bullets and real rockets. No disturbing memories, emotions or flashbacks - just different associations.

Since Kathleen enjoys fireworks so much, we go anyway. In 2009 the community Fourth of July fireworks display was canceled because of the drought. But we attended the year before. We arrived early and set up our folding chairs in the park for an unobstructed view of the show. It was the end of a typical Independence Day: hot and sunny weather and families picnicking and setting off fireworks. Lightning flashed in the gray distance, too far away to threaten the celebration.

In the twilight before the show, a young man set off a rocket while a crowd stood around watching. I wondered how much these people had to drink and whether a rocket might accidentally veer and injure someone.

A sudden burst of firecrackers reminded me of my next younger brother. When he was a kid he bought the largest firecrackers he could find and used them to blow up toys. One day he constructed a makeshift cannon from an abandoned piece of sewer pipe. He sealed one end with rocks and mud and stuck it in the ground at an angle. Then he dropped a lighted firecracker down the pipe, followed by a projectile. When the pipe exploded, he was injured by the shrapnel. It was a bad omen. Unfortunately, decades later he died from gunshot wounds in Miami.

The fireworks display was spectacular, though one rocket burst too early and fireballs hit the ground. The grass caught fire, but the emergency crew quickly extinguished it. During the furious climax, a series of loud booms triggered a memory of July 4, 1969, when I was serving in Vietnam. Not far from the village where my advisor team was camped, a small American unit was engaged in a fierce battle. Pinned down by the Viet Cong, the night ambush patrol called for reinforcements. Soon elements of a mechanized infantry battalion rushed to join them. Artillery and gunships pounded the area during the night.

My team watched the battle from a safe distance, about a half-mile away. I thought then that no Fourth of July celebration could ever match this display. The sight and sound of artillery exploding in the night was amazing. Then came "Puff the Magic Dragon," the cargo aircraft outfitted with a Vulcan machine gun mounted in its open side door. As the plane circled the battle area, the gun rained hundreds of large-caliber bullets per minute into the ground with a ferocious growl of anger and death. Tracer rounds created a visible river of fire. After about two hours of this, the unit withdrew and the night was quiet. The next day, I sent a patrol to assess the damage. All the structures and the livestock in the tiny village were destroyed. They found no human bodies, however. I assumed that the villagers fled before the devastation.

So that's the deal. Fireworks don't do anything for me. I’d rather watch a display of lightning any day.


Luna said...

Denny thank you for sharing that !
I think so many of us, myself included look to the sky and only see the colours exploding. You are also right soo many people who shouldn't have fireworks do!
I remember as a kid how many kids in the neighbourhood got hurt playing with firecrackers.
I prefer to let the professionals do the pyrotechnics and not the backyard type.

Roy Atkinson said...

Denny - Compelling. It points out that we should never dismiss someone's reaction to something, though it's different from our own and what we expect.

Scott Allison said...

Great story, Denny. For all your service to our country, you are a hero to me. I'm grateful to your tweet which directed me here. Thank you.

Mark said...

Lightning has always been way cooler than fireworks. When I was a kid, I used to sit out on the porch with a peanut butter jelly banana tortilla (don't judge) and enjoy the storms.
Good memories.