Fearless on the Fourth of July
Fearless on the Fourth of July
A soldier's story of how a community helped him battle his fear of fireworks.
I could see the excitement on my 7-year-old’s face in the rearview mirror. We were driving home from church, and our pastor had talked about the town’s Fourth of July celebration, next week at the ball field.
The church would be sponsoring a hot dog stand, a moon bounce and face painting. There’d also be a baseball game.
“It’ll be awesome, Dad,” Angus said. “Will you go with us this year? We can watch the fireworks!”
I had to suppress a shudder. My wife, April, shot me a worried look. “Angus,” she said, “remember, Daddy needs to leave before the fireworks.”
Angus’s face fell. “Oh yeah.”
It might seem strange that a thing that brings so much joy to a 7-year-old would strike fear into the heart of a grown man—especially an ex-soldier. But I hadn’t attended a Fourth of July celebration in six years.
Not after what happened my first Independence Day back from active duty in Iraq. We were living in El Paso at the time, in army housing at Ft. Bliss.
April and I brought baby Angus with us to a friend’s barbecue. We stood in the backyard chatting while Angus napped in the house. Then I heard it. Pop! Pop! Pop! Pop! Small ammunition—machine-gun fire.
“Incoming!” I yelled, and dove to the ground. I lay on my stomach, my hands covering my head, my heart pounding as I waited for the all clear.
“Patrick, man, you all right?” I looked up to see my friend and April crouched beside me. What were they doing there?
Then I started to get my bearings back. I wasn’t with my battalion in Iraq. I was home. Across the street I could see the neighbors, lighting strings of firecrackers. Not gunfire. Just firecrackers.
I stood up, as embarrassed as I’d ever been. “Sorry,” I muttered. I knew I wasn’t in a combat zone, but my pulse raced like I was. My stomach was in knots, every hair on the back of my neck stood on end.
Everyone was sympathetic, but I couldn’t enjoy the rest of the party. I kept feeling that something or someone was waiting to attack from out of nowhere.
When the city fireworks started, I retreated inside the house and April followed, missing the show on my account. No more fireworks for me. Never again.
I pulled the car into our driveway, my son’s request hanging in the air. All these years later I still couldn’t face the Fourth.
I had my own tradition—shutting myself in my bedroom, turning down the lights, cranking up the volume on the TV and playing College Football on PlayStation till the booming and crackling was over.
We went inside. Angus’s disappointment really got to me. I revered my father—he was an Army veteran, the main reason I enlisted. My son looked up to me the same way, and now he was old enough to draw his own conclusions about why I hid out every Fourth.
Would he learn that the best way to deal with fear is to shrink from it? Lord, is that what I’m teaching him?
I’d been through a lot of changes in the past year. Last summer, I’d lost my job at an oil company. Our family’s finances got stretched to the limit.
It took me a few months to find another job, driving a truck for a soft drink company—at a third of my former salary. I was grateful, but for a while we weren’t sure how we could afford to buy Angus new shoes for the upcoming school year.
Then we heard about a community outreach sponsored by a church. They were buying shoes for kids. We went to the shoe store, and Angus picked out a pair he liked. I felt a little ashamed accepting charity, but the minister was friendly. “I can’t thank you enough,” I said when he paid at the register.
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