Happy Birthday America!

Published 8:21 am Wednesday, July 3, 2013

John Adams, the second president of the United States, must have had access to a crystal ball in early July of 1776.

Adams, listed among the famed “Committee of Five” who crafted the Declaration of Independence, penned the following words (from the Adams Family Papers of the Massachusetts Historical Society) to his wife, Abigail, upon the adoption of that document on July 4, 1776:

“I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.”

Now, 237 years later, Adams’ words hold true to form as all red-blooded Americans celebrate July 4th in patriotic fashion.

For two local men, both military veterans and both past commanders of Ahoskie American Legion Post 102, their thoughts of this special day are linked to their proud past as members of the US Armed Forces and the effort each gave to ensuring the freedom enjoyed by America today…that of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

“First of all, I think of the Fourth of July as Independence Day,” said Willie Watford. “We have to realize that freedom isn’t free; it’s paid for in service and sacrifice. As an African-American former member of the military I realize that we are not totally free in this country, but we’re striving. We have a chance to advance in this country no matter what our circumstances.

“I’d rather be here (in the USA) than anywhere else on this planet,” Watford added. “While there may be some discrimination, we live in a country where we can speak out against the government without being ostracized; unlike, say, Russia. Though the playing field is not always totally equal, there has been change and we have gained and made advances.”

Watford concluded by saying, “As past commander of Post 102, I led one of the most integrated organizations in the Roanoke-Chowan area, and I’m proud of my country and of my service. In the foxhole the most important thing you look at is who can keep the enemy out.”

John Bracy recalled his childhood days in Ahoskie, saying that Independence Day was exciting.

“It was something to always look forward to, like the cookouts, or the beach, and then the fireworks,” he recalled. “These days as a retired military veteran, I tend to maybe not celebrate the same as I recall; of course there is still the cookouts and fireworks, but then again something else reminds me that some folks who fought for our independence aren’t celebrating with us anymore, but went on to heed the call to defend our country’s freedom so that we may go on celebrating.”

Bracy and Watford were among the Post 102 members to pay tribute on Memorial Day to the local fallen veterans. Those legionnaires fanned out over Hertford County, visiting graveyards where they marked the final resting place of nearly 2,000 local veterans with flags as donated by Garrett-Sykes Funeral Home.

“Walking among those graves to me is a history lesson; the headstones sharing the experience of those fallen veterans,” Bracy said. “Today, our military still fights for the independence of our country, a freedom of independence we have enjoyed for over 230 years. I challenge you all to go out and look at these veteran’s graves and take time to remember their sacrifices.”

Bracy said Independence Day brings to mind the chance for families to be out playing with their children.

“I think of the lives given for these families to be able to celebrate,” he stressed. “The fireworks on Independence Day remind me of our National Anthem, of the bombs bursting in air. While many will look at the fireworks in awe, many of our veterans will think back to the time when a shell burst with its loud boom, and it may have taken the life of their fellow soldier, or the veteran may remember the life of a dear friend who was called on to gloryland fighting for our independence along his side.

“Other veterans may be out celebrating Independence Day, but their suffering is hidden still….many still will not speak of their experience; they will watch the fireworks and breathed deeply as their skin starts to crawl in the remembrance of it all,” Bracy added. “Today, many will embrace the freedom we enjoy, but many today still recall that freedom is not free.”

He continued by saying, “Independence Day is a day I take a great deal of pride in, not only myself, but my country. I take pride that I followed the footsteps of many who took the call to defend our country. Many in my own family having served, two brothers who were my great uncles, called home to gloryland 10 days apart while serving in France during World War 1. For me, July 4th not only marks our independence from England, but the sacrifice made by every member of the United States Armed Forces and their families. Don’t ever forget their families.

“I hope that you take a moment to dwell on our nation’s deep-seated love of freedom and how it affects us all as individuals and as a nation. So important is that freedom, we cease to be America without it,” Bracy closed.