This morning, many in the tri-state area will catch a little extra sleep after a late night at the 35th Fireworks and Air Show Spectacular on the banks of the Mississippi River in Dubuque. Some still will be humming the patriotic tunes broadcast on Radio Dubuque during the show.
Others will clean their barbecue grills and check their charcoal supplies, or they will head to the Mathias Ham House for the annual Fourth of July Ice Cream Social.
And Americans will, in countless other ways, prepare for the Independence Day holiday.
Let’s call it Independence Day, as opposed to July Fourth, as a subtle-but-important reminder that this red-white-and-blue occasion celebrates our independence from Great Britain. It celebrates the subsequent creation of freedoms that make the American system the world’s ideal model of democracy.
Independence Day 2021 is an opportunity to remember that our freedoms — won through human courage, conviction and sacrifice the past 245 years — are not guaranteed to be permanent. They must be preserved and protected every day, and we thank those who have made the ultimate sacrifice and those who, today, as you read these words, are serving in distant lands in defense of democracy and the American way of life.
Perhaps tri-state-area residents could take time out this weekend to visit Dubuque’s newest tribute to all those who have served — the renovated Veterans Memorial Plaza at Chaplain Schmitt Island. The $3.2 million project took about a year to complete and opened to the public on Memorial Day weekend.
The plaza buildout includes a memorial pier from which a striking, stainless-steel edifice pays tribute to the island’s namesake. Standing 24 feet tall and weighing 18,000 pounds, the spiraling sculpture “Skyward” is the centerpiece of the reshaped plaza. Visitors can walk inside the sculpture and read the engraved lines of the poem “Rain,” by World War I officer Edward Thomas. The poem remarks on the sacrifice of human life in war. The incisions in the sculpture represent the rain referenced in the poem. At night, lights illuminate the statue from the inside, sending a beam of light upward.
The shape and aesthetic of “Skyward” are symbolic in multiple ways. Its title references Chaplain Aloysius Schmitt, who is credited with helping 12 other sailors climb through a porthole to escape the sinking USS Oklahoma during the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, sacrificing his own chance to flee in the process. When someone enters the sculpture, that person can look up and see the last thing that Schmitt saw as he hoisted men out of the ship — the sky. Visiting this impressive and moving edifice is a must for every local resident this summer.
Celebrations of freedom and independence and gatherings with family are particularly precious this year, following a year and a half mostly devoid of in-person community celebrations, reunions or parties. In 2021, we have a new appreciation for the value of being together.
Today, we treasure and celebrate all it means to live in the land of the free.