Chances are you just grabbed Arkansas Living from your mailbox, and you are gearing up for a weekend of family, fun, flags and fireworks to celebrate July 4, our Independence Day. I love family, fun and fireworks, and I will get to those in a minute, but first I want to share some cool facts about Old Glory.

There are 50 stars on the flag symbolizing the 50 states of the Union and 13 stripes to symbolize the original 13 Colonies. The colors were not chosen randomly but have meaning. Red stands for hardiness and valor. White symbolizes purity and innocence. Blue signifies vigilance, perseverance and justice. The military folds the flag using 13 folds, which symbolize 13 truths. I won’t list all 13 here, but the first fold signifies the symbol of life, and the last fold places the stars outward, reminding us of our national motto, “In God We Trust.”

The flag was originally created in 1777, and the design has been changed 27 times, with the last being in 1960 to add a star for Hawaii. There are six American flags on the moon. The first was placed by astronaut Neil Armstrong, and five other Apollo missions also took American flags to the moon.

You might ask, “Is it legal to fly an American flag after sunset?” The answer is yes, if you illuminate the flag throughout the night. An American flag should never touch the ground, and you might also ask, “Do I have to burn an American flag if it touches the ground?” The answer is no; if the flag remains clean and presentable to display, you can let it fly. If it got soiled when it touched the ground, you can wash it and then let it fly. In schools, we said the Pledge of Allegiance every morning, and in the military, we stopped and saluted the flag every morning when we put it up and every evening when we took it down. Howard Schnauber wrote a poem about our flag titled, “My Name is Old Glory,” and if you ever hear it performed at a military function or at a veteran’s funeral, you will never forget it.

Old Glory has also inspired plenty of songs from Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Red, White & Blue,” to Toby Keith’s “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue,” and most recently Coffey Anderson’s “Mr. Red, White and Blue.” They might all be good additions to your July 4 playlist, but no Arkansas playlist would be complete without Johnny Cash’s “Ragged Old Flag” that ends like this, “I do like to brag, ’cause I’m mighty proud of that ragged old flag.” I also like family and fun on July 4, and nothing brings those together better than fireworks. I have become a regular customer at Torpedo Joe’s Fireworks here in Little Rock. Lest we forget, the first July 4 fireworks show in America was put on in Philadelphia, July 4, 1777, when many armed ships in the river were decorated in red, white and blue; each fired a 13-gun salute in honor of the 13 Colonies.

So, flash forward to 2023, and if you are a retired submarine officer driving down Colonel Glenn Road in search of fireworks, and you see a sign that says, “Torpedo Joe’s Fireworks,” it is akin to divine intervention. It is too connected to be coincidental.

I think we overindulge in things that we were denied as kids, and I grew up in Iowa where fireworks were illegal. Now that doesn’t mean that we didn’t have fireworks; back then, people drove across the Des Moines River to Missouri, where a plethora of brightly colored tents full of fireworks awaited to be purchased and carted back over the river. My family made this pilgrimage annually, but our family budget was pretty much limited to firecrackers, bottle rockets and maybe a small, 100-shot Saturn Battery. We would sit outside until late at night, lighting off bottle rockets, thinking we were pretty cool. My fireworks display has evolved over the years and now lasts 30-45 minutes. It includes mortar rounds, fountains, brocades, willows, comets, whistlers, you name it, and the grand finale last year was about a minute long, with a sky full of noise, smoke and bright colors. My favorite moment was just after the finale, hearing all the kids cheering that they enjoyed the show.

I have traveled to many places during my 20-year military career, and over the last 16 years in civilian power. While I love meeting new people and learning new things, I am always amazed at how appreciative I am of America upon return. I guess they say, “Absence makes the heart fonder,” and going overseas to foreign lands and experiencing their culture makes me realize how lucky I truly am every time I return to the land of the free and the home of the brave. We are the United States of America, and I still believe that united we stand, and divided we fall. I hope that our entire country can come together and find common ground and focus on what is important this Independence Day.

I also count myself lucky to be part of the Electric Cooperatives of Arkansas, where we still pledge allegiance to the flag, pray for America, Arkansas, our leaders and our members, and we work hard every day to keep your power Affordable, Reliable and Responsible. I truly hope that you and your families have a safe and fun Fourth of July.