Click photo to enlarge
Blazing in patriotic colors of red, white and blue, a giant digitally-animated fireworks display celebrating the 4th of July will light up the skies of Times Square on the Toshiba Vision and TDK screens high atop One Times Square, Monday, July 1, 2013 in New York. The digital display will set the mood for Independence Day through July 7, 2013. (Photo by Jason DeCrow/Invision for Toshiba and TDK/AP Images)

Today is a day for flags, parades, speeches, picnics, red-white-and-blue regalia and, of course, fireworks. Despite July 4 falling rather inconveniently on a Thursday this year, we expect a sizzling hot celebration, in more ways than one.

The weather forecast tells us that sunscreen and proper hydration likely will be as essential as American flags if we want to safely express our national pride.

But we would argue that another essential ingredient for a proper celebration is to show respect for, and understanding of, the reason we celebrate -- the birth of our nation.

It was 237 years ago that 13 American Colonies changed the world by declaring independence from Great Britain. Although slightly amused by the temerity of the upstart colonists, the British took considerable umbrage to that declaration and set about to "quickly" squelch the rebellion.

Passing the declaration signaled the inevitability of what was to be a torturous war that dragged on for eight years.

Before it was done, that conflict morphed into what was essentially a global war as France, the Netherlands and Spain joined the U.S. in varying degrees to battle the mighty British.


Today is set aside to celebrate that day in 1776 when the signing process of the Declaration of Independence began. But the actual declaring of independence had been done two days before, on July 2, when the Second Continental Congress voted in favor of a resolution of independence offered by Richard Henry Lee, of Virginia.

In fact, no less a founding luminary than John Adams wrote on July 3, 1776, to his wife, Abigail, "The second day of July 1776, will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival."

While Adams was wrong on the date, he nailed the celebration part.

And while celebration is certainly in order, it is also important to remember that the road to independence has not been an easy one. It did not just magically happen with the signing of a document.

We must remember and honor the sacrifices for our freedom that were made in those early days and the many times since.

July Fourth also is a good occasion to remember those in uniform who represent us around the world.

As has been the case for a decade, we are mired in foreign conflict and our troops have been placed in harm's way. We owe a debt of gratitude to service members and their families for their willingness to sacrifice so that we can freely celebrate our nation's birth. We can think of no better day to express that gratitude. Happy Fourth of July.