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4th of July on a Mountain Top
Steve Loomis
LTC, EN, U.S. Army (Retired)
National President
American Veterans for Equal Rights

As I enjoyed a long 4th of July weekend with family and friends, several of whom are veterans, I remembered a 4th of July that has an important meaning to me.  Do we really think about what Independence Day means in America? It of course included fireworks, but so much more.

One Independence Day at sunset, I stood on top a mountain in South Vietnam and looked at the South China Sea in the distance.  Few of us thought about the great claim of independence that founded our country.  Instead, we were thinking about the picnics, the fun and especially the fireworks celebrations we were missing back home.  Our battalion commander put out the word earlier that there would be no “wasting” of ammunition on a fireworks display for the 4th of July.   Missing out on our one chance to share a taste of home, we sat glumly on our cache of hand flares, machine gun tracers and mortar illumination rounds, when our sergeant major walked up. “The old man has me checking to make sure you guys don’t shoot off a bunch of rounds,” he said.   “Everything okay, LT?”

“It’d be a lot better, sergeant major, if we could light up the sky a little.”  Making matters worse, we could see other units shooting off illumination rounds from a couple of distant mountain tops.  In a particularly impressive display, a twin 40 millimeter gun, a "duster", trailed a spray of tracers high across the evening sky like a water hose snaking out of a kid’s hand.

“It probably would,” the sergeant major answered.  “I’m going to check on an illumination mission the mortar platoon has to fire, then I’m going to the old man’s bunker.  Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do, Lieutenant.”

In a moment of calculated combat initiative I told my platoon sergeant to pass the word, “…the mortar platoon may need some help on an illumination mission.”  Shortly, we heard the familiar “thunk” of the mortar firing.

Overhead a 4.2 inch mortar round sparked and lit, its glare spreading ghostly shifting shadows across the surrounding jungle valley.  My platoon sergeant and I picked up hand flares, pulled the caps and aimed for the sky.  Swoosh, pop!  The flares, each hanging in a small parachute, added their glare over our firebase perimeter.  In a moment a dozen flares and an M-60 gunner’s tracers added their light to the valley.  Almost as quickly a “ceasefire” command came from the commander’s bunker and when the last flare sizzled out, silence and darkness returned to the valley surrounding our mountaintop.  Not surprisingly, no one knew who fired those flares.

Throughout our lives and the life of our great nation we must renew our commitment to the declaration that founded our country 238 years ago.  Not just with brilliant fireworks displays, but with our actions.  We must do so every election. 

No, that’s not correct! Every day we must do so!  The price of freedom continues to be eternal vigilance.  Our gay community and its veterans are now, more than ever before, recipients of those freedoms.  Our Declaration of Independence in its eloquent and precise arguments may be easy for most of us to read, but it is extremely difficult to put into practice.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness,”

Crucially it continues, “That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…”

When our soldiers return from harm’s way, we must insure they receive support necessary to help them be the contributing members of our society they were before their service.  This is true whether our sons and daughters return from an Asian desert, a jungle mountain top, or our fathers from a stormy French beach.  It is true whether they are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered or straight.  That is our mission as members of American Veterans for Equal Rights.

We have always performed beyond others expectations.  Our nation’s founding Declaration of Independence requires no less of you and I now, than it did in 1776!

Some of our best men and women have remained once again in harm’s way this Independence Day.  Their families and friends anxiously await their return home.  Perhaps this 4th of July those young soldiers fired a few rounds into the night desert sky.  We thank and honor them because of their willingness to serve.  Those of us who served many 4ths of July before, must work both as individuals supporting one soldier or one veteran, or together across the country fixing the problems of our Veterans Administration, or fighting for our rights including marriage.  If you go in harm's way to serve your country, you deserve all the rights of citizenship.  By honoring their service, you give honor to your own service to America.

God speed you all and God speed home and back into our arms those in harm’s way.

2014 GayMilitarySignal