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Richard McJunkin: Memories of Fourths past

By Richard McJunkin

The Fourth of July is our country’s premier holiday because it celebrates our freedoms and elicits patriotism. A student of history can only marvel about our forefathers’ brave process to liberate our land from England and embark on the creation of an incredibly durable, flexible nation.

Guest Writer

Guest writer Richard McJunkin is a retired hydrogeologist, engineering geologist, and college educator. He and his wife, Eve, manage a small woodlands in the Amity Hills. As a Vietnam veteran, he works with veterans by serving as an officer for the American Legion Post 21 and VFW Post 10626, both in McMinnville. He enjoys studying history, doing mechanical work, hiking and gardening.

This year marks the 239th birthday for the United States, the most remarkable country that ever existed. Certainly, plenty of aerial fireworks will illuminate the sky after sunset. Aerial illuminations fulfills the wish of John Adams, our nation’s second president. He requested “illuminations be presented one end of the continent to the other from this time forward and forever more.” Since 1776, pyrotechnics have always been associated with the Fourth of July.

I was born 70 years ago, just before the end of World War II. My mother loved the Fourth of July; however, she was relieved at the war’s end. My delivery date was complicating her celebrations in 1945. After seeing I arrived as a healthy boy, she told her delivery doctor, “Thank goodness he will never have to go to war.”


This year, I reflect on my other notable July 4 holidays.

July 4, 1951, Kansas City. What a great holiday for a youngster! Fireworks are booming everywhere, beginning in the early morning hours. Our family is going to a party for lots of fun and fireworks. I can hardly wait.

In the late-1940s and 1950s, because so many U.S. citizens were veterans who paid dearly for our freedom, Fourth of July parties were enthusiastically celebrated by families, schools, churches, neighborhoods, clubs and businesses. My father’s office always held a party on July 4 at one of the local county parks, well-supplied with food, drink, games, patriotic colors and every type of fireworks imaginable, including my favorite, cherry bombs.

When a prayer was said for soldiers fighting in Korea, I asked Mom, “Why are soldiers fighting?” She replied “Communists! They want to change the way you live by taking away your freedom and making you live their way.” These words brought fear to me.

July 4, 1969, Orange County, California. It is a beautiful day and my older sister is holding her usual holiday party with barbecued steak, corn-on-the-cob, baked potatoes and a huge green salad with Green Goddess dressing. Of course, I hoarded plenty of cherry bombs before they were outlawed.

It is a great time for the Independence Day holiday! In about two weeks, our country will place two Americans on the moon after a decade-long race with the Russians. I am a graduate geology student at San Diego State and also employed as an engineering geologist, making good money and having fun. The future is bright.

July 4, 1970, 1800 Hours, Muscara Compound (III Corps), South Vietnam. What a change! My college deferment was canceled, and I was drafted in August 1969. I’m assigned to the U.S. Army’s Vietnam intelligence data center, the 1st Military Intelligence Battalion. Muscara Compound is our battalion headquarters, and I have been “in country” just over two months. With aerial imagery, I have seen almost all of South Vietnam, eastern Cambodia and Laos, and southern parts of North Vietnam. Destruction to the landscape appears to be regional — total in some places, from U.S. war efforts.

The temperature is over 90 degrees; humidity is even higher. Everything is wet, including me. I’ve been on duty almost 24 hours and on guard duty in the early morning and dark hours at the infamous entrance bunker for the compound. Guard duty proves stressful this Fourth of July morning; the Viet Cong also know about our holiday. It’s very clear to me that, after years of fighting and 40,000 killed in action, we are going to lose this war. I am ashamed of the horrific destruction in which I am actively participating. As an American, this is my worst Fourth of July ever. Nine months and counting remain on my tour.

July 4, 1976, California State University, Los Angeles. In six weeks, I will graduate with a master’s degree in geology. The day is gorgeous. My future wife is cranking out resumes to be mailed everywhere. I wonder where my new job will take us. My sister is holding another Fourth of July barbecue, and this year, the nation is 200 years old. My pocket is full of newly minted bicentennial quarters, and American flags and festivities are everywhere. The patriotic spirit, sights and colors are glorious!

July 4, 2015, Amity. Another fabulous Fourth of July holiday is upon us. I retired after a wonderful geological career, and we relocated to Oregon. This will be one of the best Fourth of July holidays for me, because there is so very much to appreciate, except for maybe one item … cherry bombs are illegal!


I think it is natural to reflect on our experiences on a particular date over the years, as it may bring out intense remembrances. However, this year, I propose we all reflect upon the benefits bestowed by our great country, especially those stipulated in our nation’s Bill of Rights, the first 10 amendments to the Constitution. No other country has a Bill of Rights providing the people with so many individual and personal freedoms and liberties. We should also reflect upon and appreciate those individuals, living and dead, military and civilian, who built the strong framework of our great nation. Afterward, go out and enjoy this most patriotic and colorful of U.S. holidays.


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