It was July 4th, 1999 at Eagle Base in Tuzla, Bosnia. Where I have one of my favorite 4th of July memories. We were in Bosnia for 5 months, we were working long hours, 7-days a week. We had little time off and the constant grind was becoming tiresome. There was a plan to have an outside BBQ for everyone. We were going to have volleyball tournaments, horseshoe tournaments, basketball games and have a concert by Larry Gatlin. There were even rumors the day would end with a firework show on the airfield.
When the 4th finally came, the day was beautiful, the sun was out and it was a perfect day. We all enjoyed a day of relaxation and great BBQ. Larry Gatling was interacting with us, singing, joking as though he was at a family BBQ. The Commanding General even came up and sang Roy Orbison’s Pretty Women. He nailed it and if you closed your eyes you would think Orbison was actually singing. The day ended with a grand fireworks display on the airfield. I did not expect too much from the show, I figured it would be a few fireworks and maybe some flares, then we would be on our way. However, it was an actual firework show and it was really good. The thing I remember the most about the show. Was halfway through the show, the Bosnians came out and starting firing their AK-47s to help us celebrate. It is a fun memory one that I look back upon fondly.
Until 2004 I looked forward to attending a good firework show, I enjoyed them and waited anxiously for the shows. I miss those days; I miss the 4th of July. I don’t go to firework shows anymore. Instead of looking forward to the shows I now face the 4th of July fireworks with dread. July 4th of 2005 was the first firework show I attended after returning from my first deployment to Iraq. I took my family to a local park and was looking forward to a great night of fun and a fantastic firework show. It only took a few minutes to realize this was not going to be the experience I had hoped. Within a few minutes, I found myself back at Camp Anaconda in Balad, Iraq. The mortar shells that were exploding overhead reminded me of the constant mortar attacks we received everyday at camp Anaconda. Out of the year I spent in Balad, there was only one day we did not receive mortars. On my Birthday October 2, 2004 we spend almost the entire day in our shelters due to constant mortar attacks. During the show, as the whistling fireworks screamed into the sky and burst with a loud blast, I was instantly transported back to my tent in Iraq. Laying on the ground while listening to the incoming rocket fire. Wondering when and where the rocket was going to land. Those moment of waiting seemed like an eternity, “where was it going to land and was my tent going to be shredded with shrapnel” As I watched the fireworks, I remember thinking while I was in Iraq “am I low enough on the ground to avoid the shrapnel if it did shred my tent?” During the show I was reminded of the day I was in my tent and I heard a rocket approaching. As it came closer to my tent, I could hear the rocket descend and I realized it was going to land in my area. All I could do was lay on the ground and pray for the best. I heard the rocket hit the ground just outside my tent. I waited, but there was no explosion, after a minute or so I got up and stuck my head out of the tent flap. I looked to the left of my tent. Just on the other side of the small road was the rocket that had landed. The rocket was still smoking but never exploded. Throughout my 24-months in Iraq I experienced many mortar and rocket attacks. But this one experience sticks out in my mind. Now when I see or hear the loud explosions of fireworks on the 4th of July. I mentally go back to the moment I was laying on the ground in my tent waiting for the explosion, wondering if I’m going to survive.
I miss the 4th of July fireworks show, I miss them so.