Do you have a favorite 4th of July memory? I have several. In 1999 I spent a summer running a children’s camp in intercity Philadelphia. There is nothing like a 4th of July Celebration in the city where our nations forefathers debated, toiled and set up the documents that established our country as a place of freedom. There was lots of fanfare. Things like a retelling of the Signing of the Declaration of Independence, actors dressed in the time period costumes and patriotic music played next to the Liberty Bell. Not to mention fireworks. It was an exciting and memorable place to be on the 4th of July.
However, this is not my most memorable 4th of July. Mine was in Omaha, Nebraska in 1986. I was a summer missionary for the Kansas/Nebraska Baptist Convention. My partner, Zoe Stroman Trip and I, spent the summer moving around a lot. But during the week of July 4th we were at a church in Omaha. We arrived on Saturday to be told that VBS was on Monday. NOTHING had been done. No teachers, no crafts, nothing. To be honest I was a little concerned, so much so I forgot that the next day was July 4th.
So on the 4th of July, our host family took us to church. We were, well I was, completely absorb with getting VBS together. As we walked into the service, I was wishing I could have skipped it and work on VBS. We had about 50 kids coming the next day and so much to do.
As the service began, I was drawn into it. I don’t remember every detail, I just remember the choir. There were more men than women, which is so unusual. They began to sing patriotic songs. I was mesmerized. Not so much by the music as by the emotion.
You see, this town was a military town. Most of the people in this area worked or were in the service at Offutt Air Force Base. Most of the men in the choir were in the Air Force. As this choir began to sing, I watched grown men cry. They sang “God Bless America” and “The Star Spangled Banner”. I really don’t remember if the signing was good. But I do remember it was wonderful.
The church had decided to let service men give a word of “testimony” for the service. Men and women, one after the other, talked about what it meant to them to serve our country. It’s been almost 30 years and I don’t remember one single word. I just remember the commitment. The love for our country. The clear calling on their life to protect freedom, to protect America, to protect me.
I think of that day, at least for a fleeting second, every Independence Day. One of the reasons I remember this is a gift the friends we made there gave us. We had to be very flexible that summer. So many of the churches that were supposed to “host” us failed to plan accordingly and Zoe and I would end up in that same town outside of Omaha for most of the summer. Each time we would arrive back our friends would say we were “winging” it. Going with the flow. Taking a change of orders and plans in stride. The called it “earning our wings.” So as the summer came to a close, we were awarded our “wings”. (Pictured below.) And may I say “undeservedly so”. These are Air Force wings. I cherish them, but I know that those men and women, who wear them daily, deserve them way more than me.
I currently live in a military community. Fort Jackson, an Army base, is just on the other side of town. To see men and women in uniform, and since Fort Jackson does a lot of basic training, to see such young men and women is not uncommon. So much so, that it is just the norm for us. How I take them for granted. If only I could remember to say thank you or to say a prayer for them as they pass by.
So this Independence Day, as you eat your hamburgers and hot dogs and go to incredible fireworks display, remember those who have “earned their wings”. Remember those who have given and are currently giving their lives in service so that we might be free. And when you hear the “Star Spangled Banner” and “God Bless America” may is sound wonderful to you.