Boomers Brought the Bang on the Fourth of July

On the eve of the signing of the Declaration of Independence by Congress, John Adams wrote a letter to his wife, Abigail, about the day the document was to be signed. It was dated July 3, 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 forevermore.

After World War II ended in 1945, the country was in a celebratory mood. A great many former soldiers were married, and this continued for another twenty years, setting up what was to become the largest baby boom the country had ever seen. By the time the first boomers were old enough to play with matches, the country was a decade past the War. As the patriotic wave that had overcome the victorious nation continued in annual celebrations, fireworks were a regular part of the festivities. Many boomers have family photos of their fathers and uncles setting off Roman candles and fireworks in parks, vacant lots and backyards. It seemed only natural then, that boomers would follow suit, setting off firecrackers of their own as soon as they could get their hands on them.

The sale of fireworks are controlled by individual states. As for Mister Boomer’s experience, fireworks of all kinds were banned in his state, but not the neighboring state. Living only 30 miles from the state border, it was a short drive to the nearest fireworks stand, which was conveniently situated a few hundred feet from the border.

Mister B recalls making the ride with his father and brother, a straight drive down what used to be the main interstate highway before the freeways were built. Mister B’s father liked to set off Roman candles and small flying rockets in the neighborhood, but only occasionally, and not on every July 4th.

By the time Brother Boomer got his first car, Mister B would ride with him down to the border crossing where his brother could purchase fireworks for himself. His taste tended toward the bigger firepower that the neighborhood kids all seemed to have: strings of lady fingers, M-80s and cherry bombs. It was less about the rocket’s red glare, and more about the bang.

Sparklers, however, were not initially banned in the state and were a big holiday winner among the younger set. Once the sun went down, kids would get a sparkler in each hand and run around in a circle or down the block, trailing the sparkling flame behind them. Several kids standing together would write in the air with the lighted stick, making fading letters or shapes against the night sky.

During the day, kids opened small packages of colored balls that resembled Trix cereal, colored red, yellow or blue. Hurling one of the little spheres to the sidewalk, it would pop like a cap. A bigger bang could be elicited by laying down a grouping of the spheres and smashing them with a rock or brick.

Meanwhile, neighborhood boys were setting up increasingly elaborate ways to bring on the snap, crackle and pop. Firecrackers were never used in Mister B’s neighborhood to harm animals, as in the stories that some boomers relate. Rather, the neighborhood boys enjoyed blowing up things like model airplanes, cars and boats, or the occasional head of one of their sisters’ dolls when they felt particularly sinister.

Mister B recalls one summer when Brother Boomer and his neighbor buddies reenacted scenes of the Robert Mitchum movie, Thunder Road. Laying down trails of lighter fluid and strategically placed lady fingers half-buried in the side of a small mound of dirt, model cars ran the gauntlet, only to meet their fate amidst the explosions and flames; boomer boy play at its pinnacle!

The larger, distinct kaboom of an M-80 or cherry bomb was heard around the neighborhood for a week before the holiday, and up to two weeks after. Fortunately, the kids in Mister B’s neighborhood were smart enough not to accept dares of holding a firecracker while it exploded, thus preventing major injury. Mister B stayed away from personally setting off firecrackers, instead living vicariously through his brother’s and neighbors’ actions.

Firecrackers were a part of the July 4th holiday experience for most boomers. It’s another example of how boomers were allowed to do things that today would be considered far too unsafe, often within the sight of our parents, and sometimes, as was the case with firecrackers, with the help of our fathers.

Happy Fourth, boomers! What firecracker experience does the Fourth evoke for you?

This is an edited post that was originally published by Mister Boomer on July 3, 2011.

Boomers Lived Through and Celebrated Presidential History

Another Presidents Day is here. Mister Boomer has noted how the federal holiday came to be, and that boomers remember a time before Presidents Day (Boomers Said, “Hail to the Chief”). At this point in history, boomers have been living through the terms of fourteen presidents. However, the man who was POTUS when the first Baby Boomer was born in 1946 was Harry Truman, and not many boomers know much about this president.

If you are a boomer like Mister B, you were not taught much about President Harry Truman, other than he made the decision to drop first one, then another atomic bomb on Japan in an effort to end World War II. Germany had previously surrendered in May of 1945 following the suicide death of Hitler one month earlier. Two weeks prior to Hitler’s death, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt died suddenly, thrusting his Vice President, Harry Truman, onto the international stage. The fight with Japan continued.

It was surprising for Mister B to learn that the Vice President of the United States was kept in the dark about the program to develop the atomic bomb — the Manhattan Project. Historians record that Truman only learned of it after becoming President. The Russians, however, did know about it in great detail, due to a network of spies in the U.S. and around the world. Thus, the Russians were working to develop an A-bomb of their own, which ultimately led to the Cold War.

As boomers recall their history lessons, President Truman, when faced with the prospect of a prolonged bloody conflict with a ground invasion of Japan, ordered the dropping of the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. When Japan failed to surrender after the destruction of that city, the president ordered a second bomb to be dropped on Nagasaki on August 9. Together, nearly a quarter million Japanese citizens were killed in the bombings. Japan signaled surrender, and on August 15, Emperor Hirohito announced it, ultimately signing a formal surrender declaration on September 2.

In 1946, President Truman dissolved the OSS (Office of Strategic Services), the Central Intelligence Group (CIG) and other war-related agencies that were created to gather intelligence during the War. To replace them, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), National Security Council (NSC) and others were created under The National Security Act of 1947. The purpose of these agencies was to oversee the gathering and sharing of intelligence that both military and political figures felt was necessary to protect a post-war America.

In early 1950, paranoia over the rise of the Soviet Union in the wake of the War led some American political figures, notably Senator Joseph McCarthy, to conduct hearings under the authority of the House Un-American Activities Committee. McCarthy, in a speech in West Virginia, specifically charged that the State Department was harboring Communist “traitors.” A reporter asked President Truman for comment, and Truman stated, “I think the greatest asset that the Kremlin has is Senator McCarthy.” The official response to the committee from the Truman Administration, residing in the National Archives, calls the charges rumors, lies, or based on no evidence.

An in-depth look at this underpublicized president is far beyond the scope of a boomer blog; Harry Truman was a complex man filled with contradictions and human emotions. His penchant for speaking his mind is why the phrase, “Give ’em hell, Harry” was attached to him when he began his political career. Records show, in his personal life, he was conflicted by ideas of racial equality. Yet in 1948 he ended segregation in the military, and supported civil rights legislation soon after the War.

In 1950, Truman’s fear of the threat of the spread of Communism led him to bring the U.S. into what was called a “police action” in Korea. Truman’s administration assembled a group of international allies to serve alongside United Nations troops. With the involvement of China and the Soviet Union, it became apparent that victory in Korea was far from a sure thing. Truman was advised to again use nuclear weapons. A World War I veteran himself, and in the wake of his overseeing the end of hostilities in World War II, he refused to do so. Ultimately, the U.S. and U.N. troops retreated to the 38th Parallel, which became the basis for the DMZ that marked the division between North and South Korea.

In January of 1953, Dwight D. Eisenhower was sworn in as the 34th President of the United States. Boomers then began witnessing a new era of presidents.

Do you have any memories of learning about President Harry Truman, boomers?