Too many fireworks; war veterans seek peace

While some Oregonians head for noisy displays, stressed and traumatized ex-combat troops look for a quiet spot

The "Minefield" explodes with glittering red tips. "War and Peace" unloads alternating rounds of color and fire. "The Torrent" promises "360 degrees of pyro " in a spectacular barrage.

As Americans stock up on Fourth of July fireworks with battlefield themes, those with actual war experience are adopting safety plans instead. Combat veterans in Oregon and southwest Washington say they are heading to quiet campsites, small family gatherings or the basement with earphones. They'll pre-stage their dreams before bed, visualizing different endings.

Depression, anxiety and drinking all spike around the Fourth of July, counselors say. "This time of year is stressful -- period," says Jim Sardo, a two-tour military psychologist who manages the PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) Clinical Team and Substance Abuse Services at the Portland Veterans Affairs Medical Center. Unexpected bursts of noise, summer heat, crowds, traffic, forced gaiety and coolers of cold beer all contribute.

But the Fourth of July also stands as a collective reminder of both the patriotism and pain in military service. Many veterans are bothered less by the booms, Sardo says, than the deeper questions the displays raise about what it means to go to war and lose a limb, friends or a view of the world as a healthy place.

"I hear patriotic music or the Pledge of Allegiance, I start crying," says Ken Kraft, a Multnomah County sheriff's deputy who earned a Bronze Star in Iraq. "It's a respect and reverence for the rights we have and the really good people trying to defend this country. But I'm not pro-war, and anyone who is, has never been to war.

"War changes who you are and how you are and how you react to things. My wife still grieves for the person who went there.

"Because somebody else came home."