Fourth has special meaning for vets

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

For many Americans, Independence Day is about picnics and fireworks displays. For veterans at VFW Post 3838 in Cape Girardeau, the holiday has a deeper significance.

John Dragoni

"I'm proud to be an American, and Independence Day means a lot to me," said John Dragoni Sr., 82, of Cape Girardeau, a retired U.S. Army Air Corps staff sergeant. "But I hope it awakens other people to what America is all about, especially with the bombings going on around the world. It's just American pride I guess."

The American flag that flies over the post is one of the things they take pride in.

"The flag means an awful lot to us, and Independence Day means an awful lot to us," said Melvin Kuehle, 84, Of Cape Girardeau. "That is why we built this VFW post here in Cape. We did it for all veterans. Anyone can come out here."

Independence Day celebrates the adoption of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, declaring America's independence from Great Britain. Fireworks have been associated with the Fourth of July since 1777.

But after fighting in wars and facing shrapnel and enemy fire, some veterans haven't quite acquired a taste for fireworks explosions and some of the other fanfare that comes with the holiday. And some think the younger generation doesn't understand what the holiday is even about.

Elmer Schearf

"I can do without the fireworks," said Army veteran Elmer Shearf, 83, of Cape Girardeau. "I saw plenty of that in Korea. It could be celebrated without the fireworks. It brings back too many sad memories of so many men, friends, that died."

"All the days -- Flag Day, Veterans Day -- they are all special to me because I sometimes wonder if our younger generation recognizes what it took to fight for the freedom of this country," Kuehle said. "Maybe they do, but I have doubts about it. They don't teach enough about the history in schools. It may be coming back, though."

Jim Nicholson, secretary of Veterans Affairs, is urging all veterans across the country to pin on their military medals Independence Day to show their patriotism and pride in their service. Called the Veterans Pride Initiative, the program asks the 24 million living Americans who have served in the armed forces to display their medals on the Fourth of July by pinning them on their civilian clothing over their left breast. Nicholson asks veterans to participate not only on Independence Day, but Memorial Day, Veterans Day and when attending other patriotic events. Major U.S. veterans organizations have endorsed the initiative.

"I don't know what it means to other people, but I'm proud of my medals, and I will wear the ones I've received," Dragoni said.

Melvin Kuehle

"Several of the guys will be wearing their medals," Kuehle said. "And they should be. They should be proud of their medals. It wasn't easy to get them."

Many of the men said spending time with family is the most important item on their Independence Day agendas, but gathering together and celebrating freedom are important as well.

"We've got guys here who have fought in all kinds of wars and battles," Kuehle said. "The fight means something to us patriotically. But having our family banquets and honoring all veterans is what we're about."

335-6611, extension 197

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