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Happily Hooked On Fireworks

We just have enjoyed another New Year’s Eve show of “banned” fireworks, although here in maverick Aiea Heights, things haven’t changed all that much. I will say, as we looked out over Pearl Harbor, the post-midnight smoky pall didn’t last as long as it used to.

For some reason, the close of 2012 caused me to be more nostalgic, as I thought back over previous New Year’s Eve and Fourth of July celebrations and their attendant fireworks.

Of course, as a kid, my dad and uncles taught me the tricks of putting firecrackers in and under tin cans to send them high in the air, and the grumbling roar of a string of crackers thrown into an empty garbage can with the lid clamped down tight.

Also, I recall as a kid being in the front middle seat of a car (yes, we used to have those) and my buddies in the backseat were horsing around with a lit “ladyfinger.” As I was leaning as far forward as possible to get away from the inevitable blast, the cracker ended up in the gap between the top of my Levis and the skin on my back, and despite my frantic digging, I couldn’t get it out before it exploded – Oweee!

While on cruise aboard the aircraft carrier USS Saratoga during my years in the service, I had the New Year’s Eve bridge watch while anchored off Cannes, France. The fireworks display from the quay in the harbor was greatly enhanced by the reflections on the water – all very romantic, but, alas, those were the days before women served aboard U.S. Navy ships, so my watch mate was not that romantic.

Or there was the lunar new year in North Vietnam (Tet) just after the peace accords were signed, ending the interminable Vietnam War. We POWs crowded around the big windows of our cell bays to enjoy the incredible fireworks display put on for the locals there in Hanoi. These fireworks were made by the masters and included nesting charges of different colors, Roman candles and pinwheels suspended by parachutes in fireworks color combos never seen by our Western eyes. I recall that viewing the rockets and starbursts through those barred windows made me think of Francis Scott Key as he composed our national anthem.

While living at Maili with teenage kids and their friends, we had the annual New Year’s Eve bonfire on the beach with ukulele, guitar and plenty of songs. Of course, firecrackers would find their way into the fire. Then, on New Year’s morning: “Hey, you kids, no breakfast till the beach is cleaned up.”

Or the Fourth of July celebration in 1982 sponsored by American Army units in West Berlin. I was there to speak to the soldiers of the Berlin Brigade, which I did July 3 on the parade grounds, where they had just rehearsed for their military parade the next day. Each year, on the national day of the four occupying countries – the U.S., England, France and the Soviet Union – there was a celebration in the style of that country. After a daylong picnic of hot dogs, potato salad, corn on the cob and watermelon, that night at lakeside in the center of the city, the West Berlin Symphony Orchestra played Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture to the accompaniment of several cannons on a huge raft in the middle of the lake, with spectacular fireworks timed to the rhythm of the cannons and the music. Chickenskin to the max!

More recently we’ve reversed our Aiea Heights perspective by accepting invitations to go aboard a ship in Pearl Harbor and looking back up the hill toward home while official Navy fireworks cast shimmering reflections on the water of the harbor.

But, honestly, the stay-at-home show from our own neighborhood is tough to beat. We are blessed with a 270-degree view sweeping from Camp Smith to West Loch in Pearl Harbor and beyond to Makakilo and Kapolei. At midnight, Halawa and Aiea are a virtual volcano of starbursts, Roman candles, pinwheels and concussion bombs that reverberate through the ridges and ravines.

Controversial as the fireworks issue may be, I still say: “Lucky we live Hawaii!”

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