For most folks, July 4th is the official kickoff party for Summer. But I think it’s important to take a moment between bites of barbeque, parade floats, and fireworks to remember what we’re really celebrating.
I’m not just talking about the anniversary of the Continental Congress signing the Declaration of Independence in 1776. I’m thinking more about how our forefathers, working in times that were every bit as challenging and polarized as our own, managed to create something extraordinary: the freest, strongest, most innovative, and most prosperous nation in history.
July 4th is a reminder of what Americans can accomplish when we set our differences aside and work together towards the common good. That lesson is every bit as important today as it was over 200 years ago. July 4th is also a time to remember the men and women who have protected our nation throughout its history, especially for those of us with veterans in our families. Interestingly, that mixture of public spectacle and private remembrance has been a part of how Americans marked July 4th ever since the ink dried on John Hancock’s famous signature.
A “Red Letter Day” for America
The concepts of liberty laid out in the Declaration of Independence are quintessentially American ideas. But the original July 4th celebrations came from a long European tradition. The British had been gathering in public to commemorate important dates since the 16th century. Many almanacs noted these dates in bright red lettering, which is where we get the phrase “red letter days.”
The American colonists continued this tradition as revolutionary fervor began to build in the 1760s and 1770s. Parades and parties were held to protest unjust British taxes, which helped to spread political awareness and the idea of independence to people from all walks of life.
As copies of the signed Declaration of Independence began to circulate throughout the colonies on July 4th, 1776, colonists once again took to the streets to celebrate together. They rang bells and lit bonfires, mocking two traditions of a British royal birthday jubilee. In New York, colonists tore down a statue of King George III and, as the story goes, melted it down to make bullets.
With war in the air, it’s understandable that these first July 4th celebrations weren’t quite as jovial as your local hometown parade! But it is striking how modern these gatherings sound when you read about them today. People from all over our young country coming together, mixing political conviction with personal emotion, sharing opinions, making jokes – and all without Facebook’s help!
Remembering Our Heroes
During the Revolutionary War, commemorating July 4th was a way to bond Americans together and keep spirits up during some very difficult times. Americans also began marking the anniversaries of important battles, as well as the men who fought in them. By the 1790s, some folks were already celebrating the birthday of the original American war hero, George Washington.
Today, our personal connections to military heroism are an important part of our public celebrations. The millions of baby boomers preparing to enjoy retirement owe a particular debt to their grandparents and parents who fought for freedom during World War I and World War II. I always look forward to seeing members of “The Greatest Generation” honored prominently in parades and public gatherings on July 4th, as well as all the amazing photos and remembrances that get shared in my social media circles.
In my family, we remember my grandfather, Master Sergeant Pat Lowe. Many of our Keen Wealth clients will remember seeing Pat at our annual Holiday Breakfast over the years until his passing in 2013. Pat was a Master Sergeant in the US Army, an Army Ranger, and a Paratrooper who served in WWII, Korea, and Vietnam. He was a member of the Big Red One and stood guard at the Nuremberg Trials. Pat retired from the Army in 1968, one month before I was born. After his military service, Pat opened his own upholstery and carpet cleaning businesses. Then, after retiring from those jobs, he stayed busy by volunteering at the Kansas City Zoo and nursing homes. He even taught an aerobics class for the elderly in his 80's!
I was very close to my grandfather, and I made it a point to visit him often. He shared many things with me about his experiences in the military. His stories and photographs awed me, and I was honored that he would share that part of his life with me.
I’m so glad I never took my time with my grandfather for granted, and throughout this article I’ve included photos of some of the mementos I still have of him and his service to our country. I know many clients and friends of Keen Wealth probably have similar items in their own homes. I hope reading this will inspire you to take some time on this July 4th to share these treasures with your own family, especially your grandkids. Family stories are a part of your legacy that will only become more and more valuable to your heirs in the future.
Of course, thousands of military families with loved ones on active duty are still writing their stories as we enjoy this holiday. Thousands more are missing moms, dads, bothers, sisters, and friends who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country. Let’s keep all these heroes in our hearts on July 4th and appreciate the freedoms that their service makes possible for all of us.
Bill Keen is a CHARTERED RETIREMENT PLANNING COUNSELOR℠ and independent financial advisor with more than 25 years of industry experience. As the founder and CEO of Keen Wealth Advisors, a registered investment advisory firm, he specializes in providing personalized retirement planning designed to help people thrive before and during their retirement years. With a passion for educating others, Bill regularly blogs about retirement planning, hosts the podcast Keen on Retirement, and has contributed to U.S. News and World Report, Reuters, Wall Street Journal’s Market Watch, Yahoo Finance, and other publications. Based in Overland Park, Kansas, Bill and his team work with clients throughout the greater Kansas City area and across the nation. To learn more, connect with him on LinkedIn or visit www.keenwealthadvisors.com.
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