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Two Different Fourth of Julys

"The soul develops an insatiable addiction to days like today"

Published onOct 09, 2023
Two Different Fourth of Julys

Photo by Karolina Grabowska:

I awoke early to the smell of burnt sewage and desert; I awoke to the smell of magnolias and fresh cut grass.

I could barely sleep as it was; the 4th of July is always exciting.

I kept snapping awake worrying about details that could get someone killed; the wife kept stealing the covers.

I checked message traffic for mission approval and changes; I had to get the ribs started on the smoker.

I walked outside to the smell of diesel exhaust and gun oil; the cool air and smell of grass is always refreshing.

There were the familiar sounds of belted ammo in cans and diesel engines; the birds were chirping gently.

I lined up and double checked my assault kit; I laid out the seasonings, coolers, and the meat.

I ate my breakfast on the move; donuts and coffee were the order of the morning.

I briefed everyone on the plan; I had to make sure everyone knew what sides to bring.

Nate and Steve checked the ammo; Jake showed me the fireworks he bought.

Jorge tested the truck’s radios and weapons; Rob always covers his truck with red, white, and blue for the 4th.

Joe made the rounds with the troops; mama got the kids going.

I keyed the mike, “let's roll;” all my friends texted they were on their way.

We moved down the road at a good pace; Cory stopped for extra fireworks along the way.

We arrived at the objective area; it was a beautiful evening at the lake house.

The dismounts rapidly moved to the breach site; we placed out the food as the neighbors lined up fireworks.

Suddenly there was that familiar ‘SNAP’ by my head; the rapid pops of fireworks brought a smile to our faces.

Troops in contact,” I reported over the radio; some politician was giving the typical speech on the TV.

The world becomes a simple place during a firefight; the distraction was a relief from the stresses of work.

Ryan, Carl-G, shut that PKM up!” I commanded; everyone’s fireworks lit the sky with flashes and pops.

I adjusted our rates of fire; we did not want the show to end too quickly.

The radios blared in my ears with reports; Brad cranked up the Star-Spangled Banner on the speakers.

Give me a report!” I yelled; Roberto gave me the nod.

They bought the ticket Jeff, give them the whole show.” I ordered calmly; Chuck let loose everything we had.

The tracers, rockets, and explosions reached a crescendo; the children's faces are frozen in a child’s rapture.

The experienced vets could sense the fight slackening; fireworks trailed off into random whistles and pops.

Our eyes began to adjust to the lack of flashing explosions; then someone turned on the porch lights.

The assault team reported a cache of weapons; but everyone wanted more.

It seemed to be over as quick as it began; there are never enough fireworks.

There was just the occasional pop of harassment fire; the kids still had a few bottle rockets.

We finished what we came here to do; slowly, one by one the kids dozed off.

The soul develops an insatiable addiction to days like today; we always enjoy the excitement of the 4th of July?

We return to base exhausted; we post “Thanks to our vets!” on social media and enjoy a peaceful, restful night.

Two hours later we wake to sirens as rockets hit the base, … again.

Thomas Doherty is an active-duty Special Forces Officer who has worked alongside local military and police forces from Africa, South America, Europe, and the Middle East. He is a decorated combat veteran of both Iraq and Afghanistan. The opinions in this poem are his and do not represent the opinions of the Department of Defense or the United States Government.

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