Fun and fireworks

Independence Day evokes all sorts of feelings for Americans: We gather together at barbecues, watch fireworks and appreciate our freedom.

Many lawmakers, too, celebrate the Fourth by spending time with their families or attending parades. For some, the holiday can be an emotional one.

House Administration Committee Chairman Robert Brady (D-Pa.) said he and his family “put the flags out and go to barbecues, and wave the flag up and down.”

But Brady, who used to spar with Joe Frazier, confessed that the Fourth of July stirs deeper feelings.

“I did [cry] a couple of times when [listening] to Taps” in honor of soldiers who died in Iraq and Afghanistan, Brady said.
“I’m not afraid to admit I cry. I’m a big baby.” Since Sept. 11, 2001, Brady has noticed a change in the way people celebrate the Fourth. He said that Americans don’t take their “freedom for granted as much.”

The floodgates also open every Fourth for Rep. Zach Wamp (R-Tenn.).

He celebrates in Collegedale, Tenn., “at a big Fourth of July event with music and fireworks, and I will be emotional,” he said. “Tears will roll down my face and I absolutely love it. My philosophy is a tough skin and a soft heart. There is nothing more patriotic than our country celebrating the Fourth of July — especially when our troops are in harm’s way.”

Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) admits that he gets a little misty every Independence Day: “It always gets a little emotional. I think most Americans have a hard time keeping a dry eye when they bring the patriotic music out.”

Simpson always has a flag flying in his yard. On Wednesday, he said, he will be at the biggest fireworks display west of the Mississippi — or so he’s been told — in Idaho Falls.

Lawmakers are among the nation’s most patriotic citizens. Public service and a love for the United States spur many of them to run for Congress. They give up high salaries and some comforts of home to work on Capitol Hill. Independence Day means a lot for those in the People’s House.

Indiana Rep. Brad Ellsworth (D) doesn’t skimp on showing his patriotic side. He planted a 25-foot light pole in his front yard, stuck an eagle on top and raised the stars and stripes.

“I’ve got the biggest flagpole on earth,” he said.

Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.) is serious enough about his patriotism that he put a spotlight on the flag that hangs at all times over his garage. Tancredo, a fifth-term lawmaker, will spend much of the day with his family. They have a red, white and blue tablecloth and napkins. Last year, his wife even made patriotic ice cubes — star-shaped and dyed red and blue.

“I’ve got a red, white and blue Western shirt with ‘Vote’ written all over it,” he said. And he loves to blare the patriotic tunes. Tancredo and his wife would crank the volume on the Boston Pops Fourth of July performance “so loud you could hear it all over the neighborhood.”

Tancredo said he, too, lets his emotions get the better of him when thinking about America. He recalled becoming emotional after Sept. 11, when lawmakers spontaneously came out of the Capitol and sang “God Bless America.”

Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) has a pragmatic approach to being a patriotic lawmaker.

“I’m patriotic by trying to be the best American I can be,” Thompson said, “by supporting good laws and first responders.”

He doesn’t celebrate by putting a flag outside his home, but this Fourth Thompson is celebrating the way they do it in Mississippi: with the family-recipe barbecue. At night he will set off fireworks with his 26-year-old daughter and 8-year-old granddaughter. “I have just as much fun with fireworks as they do,” he said.

For Thompson, the Fourth has somber moments as well. “Unfortunately, I’ve had to attend a number of funerals for those killed in Iraq,” he said, explaining that the songs there fill him with emotion. “The older you are, the more meaning ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ has for you.”

Some lawmakers spend the holiday getting away with their family.

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) travels to New Hampshire with her family every Fourth of July. They stay in a mountain house by a lake.

Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.) also chooses New Hampshire as his Independence Day haven.

“I have five sisters. Usually we rent a place. It’s in North Connolly, N.H.,” Lynch said, admitting, “It’s a little hokey.” He and his loved ones also ignite some fireworks.

Having a flag outside is the norm in Lynch’s South Boston neighborhood.

“[It’s] sort of how it is in my neighborhood. I’m from South Boston; it’s odd if you don’t have a flag,” Lynch said. “It’s a fairly patriotic district. I live half a block from Dorchester Heights, where [George] Washington drove the British from the Boston Harbor. We have a high level of World War II vets [and] the first Vietnam War memorial.”

House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.) kept mum on how he will celebrate the Fourth or show his patriotic side: “No, I’m not talking about that,” he said.

A local member, Rep. Albert Wynn (D-Md.), plans to walk in two parades this year, but really enjoys being with his family.
“Generally, I bring my family down to the Capitol and watch the fireworks. We sit on the back steps. There’s nothing like watching the fireworks over the Washington Monument,” Wynn said.

“I have a pretty strong appreciation for patriotism,” he said. “When you’re out there and they start the program with the national anthem it’s a very moving experience.” Specifically, he harkened back to when Ray Charles sang on the Mall.
Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), a steadfast critic of the war in Iraq and the Bush administration, said be believes in patriotism, but feels that there needs to be a little something more.

“I believe in patriotism and matriotism, that both principles should be incorporated into our country. One deals with strength and the other deals with nurturing.”

Rep. Gene Taylor (D-Miss.) spends the Fourth of July at his church.

“My church parish has a prayer festival, and for 20-something years I’ve been roped into crab races — make a few bucks for the parish,” said the 10-term lawmaker, who believes he’ll partake in the same festivities for the rest of his life.    
Taylor said that he and other parishioners used to put a number on a crab’s back and see which won the race. Now they play crab roulette, where they bet on which number cubicle the crab will enter.

“There’s also an hour-long fireworks show on the night of [July 3],” Taylor said. “Right on the waterside. Prior to Katrina, there were hundreds of boats out there. You could only see a single white anchor light” from each of the boats.

People bring their “fried chicken, beer and watermelon,” he said.

Rep. Henry Brown Jr. (R-S.C.) said there’s something that “feels so good about the Fourth of July. [It] really captivates what America is all about [and] really gives you an appreciation of our freedom.”

Though usually he participates in parades, flies his flag and gathers with family members, Brown became emotional when talking about a trip he took a few years ago to Normandy. Every Fourth, the South Carolinian still thinks about seeing all of the Americans who have fought and died for this country.

“Our freedom is more than just one day,” Brown said.


Emily Belz, Lisa Chapman and Betsy Rothstein contributed to this report.

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