For most people, the Fourth of July immediately conjures up visions of barbequed meat, potato salad, cole slaw, hot corn on the cob with butter and beer. As a daughter of a US Army Sargent growing up in the sixties in Junction City, Kansas, for me the Fourth is connected with marching bands, parades, and fireworks!
Nearby Fort Riley Kansas is the home post of General George A. Custer, (yes, from The Little Big Horn) and The Big Red One Infantry Division; one of the premier fighting units in World War II, Korea, and Viet-Nam. ( I’ll discuss crazy George some other time.)
On the Fourth, Fort Riley would send troops and the Big Red One’s marching band into the city to march in the annual parade, then they would have activities on post for people to come out and enjoy. Usually the band would hold a concert on the parade ground (a huge open field the size of 4 football fields, where soldiers practice marching). Off to the side of the band you would see 6-8 small cannons, with gun crews eagerly standing by. At the end of the concert of mostly John Phillip Sousa pieces, the band would do the last section of Tschaikovsky’s 1812 overture, Of course that meant instead of using drums, they would shoot off actual cannons as the piece ended, then from the tallest hill nearby, more soldiers from the artillery brigade got to shoot off the fireworks. Most years everything went off without a hitch, but my favorite year was when the cannons–which shoot flames out the back of the barrel as the gun fires–set all the grass on fire. Half of the group ran to get water, while the rest kept firing the guns. Every year thereafter, the post fire department had water trucks standing by at the concert.
Another year they cleared a huge field next to the body of water we laughingly called a river(it was usually a mud flat) and allowed people to actually ride on tanks, troop carriers, jeeps and other military vehicles….We had never known before that how LOUD, DUSTY, incredibly uncomfortable those vehicles are–with no shock absorbers as far as we could tell, but it was fun!
I am always disappointed when I attend fireworks displays today. Since military bands marching music is considered corny now, programmers in NYC usually dig up some pop music and play that instead. People don’t know what they’re missing. I’ve even gone so far as to bring along a tape recorder, and play recordings of Sousa’s wonder music just loud enough for me to hear; and I’ve noticed people move closer so they can hear too….You’d have to be emotionally dead not to be moved by the piccolo solos at the end of The Stars and Stripes Forever. Maybe some day the planners will go back to using the right music for fireworks celebrating our nation’s birthday. In the meantime,
Happy Independence Day!!!