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Front Page » June 29, 2004 » Opinion » Fourth of July memories
Published 3,684 days ago

Fourth of July memories


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By KEN LARSON
Sun Advocate publisher

Celebrating the long Fourth of July weekend, recognizing Independence Day, has only been part of my life for the past 30 years since I grew up in Canada. Up north, we recognized the First of July as the Canadian Independence Day but I do not remember the parades, fireworks or celebrations that we have come to expect around the holiday in America.

Although I went through high school in the United States I would spend summers during school, including college, back on the ranch in Canada, so it wasn't until I was married and was out of college that I remember really observing the holiday. The first couple years I helped with at a local rodeo and fireworks display in northcentral Montana, but my first real memory of a huge fourth of July celebration was in 1974 when my wife and I accompanied five young students back to New Hampshire for the Jaycee national hunter safety association competition.

Although I hunted as a kid it was never my favorite sport, mostly because I was a terrible shot and secondly because my older brothers were good shooters and made fun of my inability to hit a target. But in the spring of 1974, while teaching fourth grade in Malta, Mont. I had just joined the Jaycee civic organization. It was formed as the Junior Chamber of Commerce back in the 1940s or 1950s and initially was only for men under 35 years of age. It has long since disappeared as a national civic organization.

My buddies at the school were teaching the hunter safety class to about 50 children and I helped out a couple weeks with the lessons. I remember we taught them four shooting positions including prone, standing, kneeling and sitting.

The day of the Montana state competition came and none of the leaders could attend so they roped me into accompanying these young people to the state finals. Unexpected to any of us, the kids won first place, which earned us a trip to Manchester, N.H. over the Fourth of July weekend.

Not only was I unfamiliar with the program, but I was also clueless as to how to train five kids to compete in a national gun program, about the Jaycee organization, or anything concerning fund-raising, I had one month to prepare for the trip.

We did it all and had an incredibly good time. It was the first time any of us, including my wife and myself, had ever been in a large airplane.

We arrived in Boston late on the afternoon of July 3 and all I can remember is the incredible fireworks shows along the freeway as we drove toward New Hampshire. I had never seen fireworks like that before and I remember the driver stopping at a couple cities from Boston to Manchester to allow us to see the bursts fill the skies.

Then the next day, in New Hampshire, I remember the parade and hundreds of children from every state in the nation attending their Fourth of July Celebration.

I was as wide-eyed as the children, because I had never seen a celebration of this magnitude and the true meaning of Independence Day had never really been a part of my life. That was until that day.

The past few years we have observed the world's struggles and seen countless pictures of other people around the globe who do not have the freedoms we all are familiar with. With these freedoms, this independence, and these feelings I want to always remember why we celebrate this special day.

Back in 1986, during the Fourth of July weekend, I became a citizen of the United States and I still have the flag I was given for the occassion. That was only 18 years ago and because I was already an adult and had seen first hand the crisises and problems in the world, I began seeing the flag differently. I see it as my freedom, the symbol of what our country stands for. I may not always agree with how things are run on a national level but I will never take my independence for granted.

Have a great Fourth of July and I challenge you to stop for a second, sometime during the day, whether its a flag waving, a burst of fireworks, or the smiling face of a child, to reflect on the day and what it really means to you.


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