Fourth of July on Orcas Island

During the final countdown on the Fourth of July I spend a lot of time thinking about how fortunate I am

By Warren Miller

In 1776 our founding fathers, wearing those funny-looking white knickers and white powdered wigs to match, were collectively smart enough to write a document that gives every American citizen amazing freedom. However, as we all know freedom is not free. It comes with a lot of hard work and dedication.

On Dec. 7, 1941, the world changed for every American when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.

I had borrowed my sister’s car and driven to Malibu and spent the day surfing all by myself. I did not know of the bombing until I heard it on the car radio on the way home. It only took a moment for me to realize that as soon as I turned 18, in October 1942, I would have to register for the draft as did every other American male between the age of 18 and 42.

It did not take a very smart person to realize that if someone was shooting bullets at somebody, that person also had a rifle or some other weapon pointed right at them. We also all knew that bullets can really hurt.

When it came time for me to register for the draft there was a Navy Officer’s Candidate program available, so on the same day that I registered for the draft I enlisted in the Navy. I survived four years of a combination of officer’s training and overseas duty. As far as I knew, I was just a serial number among tens of thousands of other soldiers, sailors and Marines.

I am the first to admit that I get a tear in my eye watching a parade on the Fourth of July on Orcas Island, or riding in one on nearby Crane Island where there are more people in the parade than there are watching it.

There are not a lot of people in this part of the world who are old enough to have participated in World War II, but there are a lot of them who served in Korea or Vietnam.

As I sit in front of this computer I realize that during the war, when our ship started sinking in a typhoon, that any messages we sent between our slowly sinking ship and the other ships in our convoy was sent by dots and dashes with a blinking light. We had to maintain radio silence because of potential Japanese submarines intercepting the message and knowing we were out there in the process of sinking. An easy target.

Some of the messages were sent by signal flags, with each flag by itself representing a letter of the alphabet and usually initiated by the most senior officer in the convoy. It is hard to explain the helpless feeling of being aboard a ship heading east from Guadalcanal to Pearl Harbor for four days, rocking and rolling in 40-foot high waves. I knew there were five other ships of the same size in the convoy and that one of those five would pick me up as well as the other 26 sailors on our ship.

Since 1946, when I got my discharge from the Navy I have never participated in a Fourth of July patriotic parade except the one on Crane Island.

During the final countdown on the Fourth of July I spend a lot of time thinking about how fortunate I am to have been born in Southern California when the Los Angeles basin had fewer than 1 million people living there, in an area stretching from Santa Barbara south to San Clemente.

When I was given my first bicycle at the age of 11, I called it my Freedom Vehicle. I don’t know how many miles I put on that bicycle but I do know that I wore out quite a few sets of tires on the gravel roads that I traveled in the outskirts of Los Angeles

Today, if a bunch of guys got together wearing white powdered wigs and white knickers no one would pay any attention to them whatsoever, other than a news clip on nighttime television. The vision that those men had – abandoning England, forming a new nation where everyone would be created equal – was so far from reality anywhere else in the world. Luckily, the Atlantic Ocean provided the necessary separation so this idea could grow.

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