West Sacramento veterans share stories of glory, pride and sacrifice this Independence Day

By Michele Townsend

Fourth of July, the American Flag and veterans are all symbols that we as Americans should all appreciate and admire. On Independence Day morning, the veterans at the West Sacramento VFW Post 8762, had plans to hold a salute to Old Glory (The American Flag). Because of the way that events unfolded that morning, the salute was not as grand of a spectacle as they had planned for the morning. But that didn’t stop the vets that were still there from celebrating our flag in a small presentation.

Peter Macias, the post’s flag specialist and historian, explained how once we were independent from the rule of King George and needed a standard of our freedom, and that the flag, your flag, is that standard.

Peter said, “The flag is not just a piece of cloth; it is a symbol of the freedoms that we have and continue to enjoy.” He continued by saying that “if it weren’t for the men and women, in uniform, and patriots, this magnificent piece of cloth which symbolizes our nation, would mean nothing.”

He reminded everyone that “the flag has been our symbol for 241 years, that any and all of us should be glad to stand our post and ensure that no one takes Old Glory away. We should all love and respect the flag of the United States of America!”

When Peter was done speaking, you could feel the pride in the room. Another vet (name unknown) stood up and said that he just wanted to say that “the flag is in fact a very strong symbol of our country, and for those who have served in another part of the world, traipsing around the countryside for months at a time, and you come back and see your flag flying at any base, it is a very powerful symbol! And you realize how glad you are to be home.” They spoke about Prisoners of War: those that have survived, those that haven’t, and those that are still there. They asked that we all take a moment and consider how much those men and women would love to see the flag, be wrapped in it, and safe. I feel safe in saying that we all send our thoughts and prayers to those servicemen and women that are still battling!
The presentation ended and people dispersed and went on their ways. The question of what different people had planned for the day was asked back and forth among the veteran brothers and some of their responses led to an entire new feeling and conversation about the day.

I then had a very intense, real, and eye opening conversation about veterans, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and fireworks. To the rest of us, the Fourth of July is a holiday filled with sun, barbecue, beer, friends and family. And of course, fireworks.

But, to many veterans, Independence Day is a day of flashbacks, rapid heartbeat, sweating, heavy breathing, uneasy feelings, and sometimes fear or panic. Fireworks are pretty and colorful light shows. The boom of them being lit off is part of the excitement for the general public. However, for many veterans the fireworks that are set off on July Fourth are just the sound of bombs going off. In fact, they are bombs going off. They are just constructed to blow up pretty, instead of deadly.

Post Commander James Brashear explained that for some vets, going to a fireworks show is OK because they know that they are coming and they know to expect it. He further explained that he “still has the physical symptoms when he goes to a show. My heart beats fast and my breathing picks up, but I can control it for the most part because I am expecting it.” He also explained that he has many friends that cannot handle it. Explaining further, he said, “The worst thing is the ones that people in the neighborhoods have and light off privately. The reason that they are so bad is because they are out of the blue with no kind of warning”. The PTSD symptoms are much stronger and harder to control. James said that “Sounds and smells are the most powerful flashback triggers. Those triggers bring you back to a fight or flight response that is instinctual for everyone. For a veteran, who has been programmed to fight, as soon as he hears the sounds, he goes into the response of take cover, look what’s going on, assess the situation and engage, you are now taking that assessment and engaging your neighbors. But you are in auto pilot and don’t realize it, so that fight or flight response becomes fight.”

PTSD can occur when someone has lived through or seen a life threatening or very traumatic incident like military combat, natural disaster, terrorist incidents, serious accidents, or violent personal assaults like rape, beating or mugging, etc. According to https://www.ptsd.va.gov/public/ptsd-overview; All Veterans with PTSD have lived through a traumatic event that made them fear for their lives, see horrible things and feel helpless. People who have PTSD often have nightmares, flashbacks, difficulty sleeping, and feeling emotionally numb. Not everyone gets PTSD, and it is unclear why some do and some don’t. It has been around for as long as there have been wars. In WWII, PTSD was called “shell shock” or “battle fatigue” The Department of Veteran Affairs estimates that PTSD afflicts almost 31 percent of Vietnam Vets, 10 percent of Desert Storm Vets, 11 to 20 percent of Iraqi vets and 11 percent of Afghanistan vets.

James said that he is very lucky because he lives in a good neighborhood and has great neighbors. “It’s just one more reason that you should know your neighbors!” he said. “If my neighbors have fireworks, they know that they will effect me, and they will come over and tell me they will be lighting them off and do I want to come watch. Even if I don’t go, at least I know they are coming.”

So, in future years, by all means celebrate our wonderful nation, but remember your neighbors. Remember that maybe that old guy that is yelling at you for having fun, has a reason for that. Invite them to join the party, or at least give them a heads up that it will be coming.

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