Sweet smell, sounds of freedom


Randy Riley - Contributing columnist



Saturday night I had the privilege of touring the USS Midway. Today, the old aircraft carrier is permanently docked in San Diego harbor as a museum for naval aircraft and the carrier that launched them.

It is an impressive ship. When on active duty the Midway carried a crew of 4,500. During over 50 years of duty, numerous aircraft flew from her 4-acre deck to protect and defend America’s interests around the world.

At the end of the evening, following a marvelous dinner and a gorgeous sunset, our group was invited to walk in the fading light to the bow of the ship. After a short wait in the darkness, fireworks started fanning out from the foredeck and eventually filled the night sky with showers of color and beauty. It was the perfect ending to a majestic day.

Fireworks do that. They are often used to cap-off a perfect day of celebration.

In 1776, one of our founding fathers, John Adams, wrote that the celebration of our independence should be continued for all time. He stated that the celebration should include “pomp, parades, bonfires and illuminations from one end of this continent to the other.”

Today, every Fourth of July celebration ends with fireworks. It is always the perfect way to end a day of celebration.

For many years, the Wilmington Optimist Club served the community by hosting the annual July Fourth celebration. The celebration used to start at noon with a picnic and music.

Once bellies were filled, the games would begin. Children and adults would line up to participate in sack races, 3-legged races, pie eating, watermelon eating and more.

As people tripped in their sacks at the finish line or straightened up purple-faced from wallowing face-first in a blueberry pie, everyone at the Wilmington City Park smiled and laughed as we all enjoyed good, old-fashioned fun as a community.

Then the fireworks would begin. After about 30 minutes of heart-pounding excitement, we always ended the show with a barrage of explosive shells that could set off car alarms in the Kroger parking lot. People always left enthused and smiling. Fireworks do that.

A fireworks display, like we have each year at the Wilmington City Park, doesn’t happen easily. About 40 years ago, I started working with the Optimist Club’s main fireworks shooter, Donnie Maher. Both of us passed our state pyrotechnic test and became licensed to shoot the large aerial shells. We worked together for many years without a single mishap.

Toward the end, after the Wilmington Optimist Club dissolved, the local shooters started working for the Rozzi Famous Fireworks company to provide the July Fourth fireworks show. Rozzi’s not only provide us with the best fireworks products available, but they also provided excellent support and training.

This coming Saturday, Rozzi Famous Fireworks will once more host fireworks training at the Clinton County Fairgrounds. The program is open to police and fire department personnel who are responsible for overall safety at each display, but they also train people to become licensed exhibitors.

The school starts in the morning and ends with a full-blown fireworks show just after dark.

Now, despite the fact that I have loved displaying fireworks most of my adult life, I realize that some people — and certainly some children and pets — like the color but don’t appreciate the sound.

Well, there is just no way to separate the two. If you’re close to a show, ear protection is important for children and adults. Some pets will need to be hugged, reassured, restrained and comforted.

Since the very first fireworks display in ancient China, when bamboo sticks were filled with explosive material and thrown into a fire, people have fallen in love with setting off fireworks. It’s the big booms, the blast and the bright colors that entertain most people, but for the people behind the lines who are setting off the display, it’s usually the smell of the smoke that keeps them going.

There is an old saying among pyrotechnicians – “He who has smelt the smoke is never again free!” That is so true.

Fireworks shows are also expensive. Without corporate sponsorship there would be no grand illuminations in Wilmington on July the Fourth.

We can certainly thank R+L Carriers and the Roberts family for their continued support of the Wilmington fireworks show.

Appreciation is also due to Trevor Shoemaker. Trevor works behind the scenes to make things happens. Also, we need to thank the local Rozzi shooters; the Hadley family and the Wilmington Fire Department personnel who make it all happen.

Even though I haven’t worked on a fireworks show for a few years, as I stood on the deck of the USS Midway with the smoke from the fireworks wafting over me, I thought to myself, the writer was absolutely right.

“He who has smelt the smoke is never again free!”

Randy Riley is a former Mayor of Wilmington and a local resident of more than 40 years.

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Randy Riley

Contributing columnist