The Fourth of July: A personal reflection on the meaning of independence

By: Annie Burnham

I like to see a man proud of the place in which he lives.  I like to see a man live so that his place will be proud of him.  ~Abraham Lincoln

Sometimes, it’s easy to complain about the freedoms we have that we feel are infringed upon or mishandled; but how often are we truly grateful just simply for the freedoms we have? This Independence Day, while we enjoy cookouts and fireworks, let’s find creative ways to express our gratitude to those who fought 237 years ago for our independence. Let’s take a moment to be present and remember the people who protect those freedoms today.

We’ve all got holiday stories and memories. As you read what Independence Day means to me, I hope you’ll reflect upon what it means to you. Please share your stories and reflections in the comments section.

I don’t typically get excited about the Fourth of July. In past years, I’ve always seen it as mostly another way for people to eat good food and watch fireworks. But this year, I decided to reexamine this holiday that is often celebrated without thought to the real meaning behind it.

The last few months I’ve become very interested in my grandfather’s life. I am the oldest granddaughter, and I was the only one who really got to know him before he passed away in 2002. I couldn’t say “grandfather” as a little girl, so I shortened his name to “Gran-Gran.” The name stuck and everyone calls him that to this day.  Being a writer, I’m fascinated with stories about people I have known. Through a series of informal interviews with my grandmother and hours devoted to scouring Alabama newspaper archives, I’ve begun creating Gran-Gran’s memoir.

Horace Rupert Burnham

Horace Rupert Burnham

Horace Rupert Burnham (known as Pat to most) was born on a farm in Calhoun County, Ala. Growing up he worked hard as one of three children on a farm. At age 18, he was drafted in the army at the beginning of World War II in 1939. When he returned after the war, a lot had changed. His mother, Annie Cheatwood (I’m named after her) had passed away and his father had remarried.  Gran-Gran met my grandmother in French class at Jacksonville State UniversityThey dated through college but both wanted to pursue higher education, so he went to law school at the University of Alabama and my grandmother went to Columbia University in New York City. His degree was funded by the GI Bill, but he also worked in the local Post Office. He began practicing law shortly after obtaining his degree. In 1952, he was called back to military service to serve in the Korean War. Shortly before he shipped out, he and my grandmother, Jane Self, married.

Upon his return from the Korean War, he got into politics. His Christian beliefs and his experience as an investigator of war crimes in Nuremberg after WWII led to his deep convictions about civil rights. He rose to become a member of the Alabama House of Representatives during the time while George Wallace was governor of Alabama. Gran-Gran was at odds with Governor Wallace‘s views about civil rights. After deciding that he wanted to spend more time with his family and serving his local community, Gran-Gran stepped down from politics. My grandfather was dedicated to fighting for civil rights and against the segregation of schools in Calhoun County. He worked hard in his town, known by all as a respectable man and one heck of a lawyer.  He was a man of dignity and bravery; a man of courage and honor. I want to be like him – willing to sacrifice everything for what I believe in because it is the right thing to do. I think that is why he was in the military, why he fought for the rights of all people, and why he loved his family the way he did.

Gran-Gran & My Dad 2001

Gran-Gran & My Dad in 2001

He knew the responsibility of fighting for his country and the honor that it earned him – but he also knew the cost. He was there at the beaches at Normandy; how many of those young men did he see fall?? I can only imagine the sense of awe that came upon him every Fourth of July, knowing he played a part in the grand defense of our great nation. I think he would be saddened by my lack of celebration in years past. This year, I think he’ll be proud.


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