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Celebrating Independence Day With Parades, Fireworks and Water Balloon Fights

Fourth of July fireworks last year over New York City
Fourth of July fireworks last year over New York City

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DOUG JOHNSON: Welcome to American Mosaic in VOA Special English.


I’m Doug Johnson.

Today we tell about Independence Day in the United States. This Fourth of July will mark America’s two hundred and thirty-fourth birthday.

We also answer a listener question about a famous American general.

And we hear a poem about the American flag by country singer Johnny Cash.


Independence Day

DOUG JOHNSON: The Fourth of July marks the anniversary of America’s Declaration of Independence from Britain. During the summer of seventeen seventy-six, American colonists were deeply divided. Almost one in three was loyal to Britain. Yet most were increasingly angry about what they considered unfair treatment by the British government. By June, fighting had already taken place between colonial forces and Britain. The idea of independence was spreading.

Delegates from the thirteen colonies gathered in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Continental Congress decided that a document declaring separation from Britain should be declared. Thomas Jefferson led a committee chosen to write it.

An 18th century painting called "Congress Voting the Declaration of Independence"
An 18th century painting called "Congress Voting the Declaration of Independence"

On July fourth, seventeen seventy-six, the Continental Congress voted to approve the Declaration of Independence. It says that people have the right to change their government if it denies them their rights. It states that everyone has the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

(MUSIC: "America the Beautiful”/Elvis Presley)

DOUG JOHNSON: Today, the Fourth of July holiday is a time for friends and families to gather. They might play sports and eat hot dogs, hamburgers and other foods cooked outdoors. They might watch a parade in their community. At night, many people gather to watch fireworks bursting in the dark sky. Katherine Cole has more.

KATHERINE COLE: To get into the spirit of the upcoming holiday, we asked several people what they were doing this year to celebrate . We also asked about memories of past holidays.

Jim is from Boston, Massachusetts. He says he has many nice memories of July Fourth holidays spent in Maine.

JIM DOOLITTLE: “During the nineties I went to Naples, Maine, with my wife. Naples, Maine, has a Fourth of July parade like no other and a fantastic fireworks display over the lake.”

KATHERINE COLE: Sion from Seattle, Washington, says his holiday plans may change.

SION: “Last year in Seattle it was cloudy. So we all went up to the Space Needle to watch the fireworks and this big cloud moved in and covered the Space Needle and so we just kind of watched the clouds and that was it.”

KATHERINE COLE: Cecilia is from Peru and lives in Maryland. She plans to go to the National Mall in Washington.

CECILIA: “I hope I will come to the concert and also to the parade.”

KATHERINE COLE: One family from Ohio has a very different kind of Fourth of July tradition in their neighborhood.

FATHER: “Water balloon war! Our whole neighborhood has a water balloon fight, a thousand something water balloons.”

ABBY: “I like to throw them at the boys. It’s boys versus girls. The boys usually win.”

KATHERINE COLE: In Washington, D.C., thousands of people will attend a concert with performances by musicians including Reba McIntire, Darius Rucker and Gladys Knight. There will also be a huge fireworks show with more than two thousand five hundred shells exploding over the National Mall.

Visitors exploring this year's Smithsonian Folklife Festival
Visitors exploring this year's Smithsonian Folklife Festival

Another event that traditionally takes place on the National Mall this weekend is the Smithsonian Folklife Festival. This year’s event celebrates the cultures of Mexico and Asian Pacific Americans. Visitors can hear the music, eat the food and learn about the many traditions of these cultures.

The third subject of the festival is called “Smithsonian Inside Out.” Smithsonian experts will have a chance to present their research and knowledge to the public.

(MUSIC: “My Country ‘Tis of Thee”/Mahalia Jackson)

Douglas MacArthur

DOUG JOHNSON: Our listener question this week comes from China. Fan Xiongjie wants to know about General Douglas MacArthur.

Douglas MacArthur was born on an Army base near Little Rock, Arkansas in eighteen eighty. He grew up on army bases where his father served. There was never any question about what Douglas MacArthur would do with his life. He would join the army. He graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York as the best student in his class.

Douglas MacArthur became a colonel when World War One began. He won many honors for his bravery and leadership. During the nineteen thirties, President Hoover appointed him chief of staff of the Army, one of the most important jobs in the American military.

In nineteen thirty-five, General MacArthur was appointed military advisor to the Philippines. He was to help the government build an army for defense purposes as the Philippines began planning for independence.

He was the chief military advisor to the Philippine military forces when the United States entered World War Two in December, nineteen forty-one. President Roosevelt ordered MacArthur to leave the Philippines to command American forces in the South Pacific.

In nineteen forty-four, he returned to the Philippines with an army that defeated the Japanese. General MacArthur was chosen to accept the Japanese surrender in nineteen forty-five. He was appointed Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers, the leader of the occupation forces that would rule Japan.

In nineteen fifty, North Korean troops invaded South Korea. Within two days, the United States decided to send armed forces to aid South Korea. Douglas MacArthur was appointed commander of the United Nations forces in South Korea. General MacArthur called for a total victory in Korea. He wanted to bomb Chinese bases in Manchuria and block Chinese ports. But President Truman would not accept General MacArthur’s plan.

The general made public his opposition to the president. The disagreement between the two ended in nineteen fifty-one, when President Truman dismissed General MacArthur as commander. Douglas MacArthur returned home to the United States. He was honored as a hero. Today, opinions about his career remain divided. Some see him as a great soldier. Others remember his inability to accept criticism.

General MacArthur died at the age of eighty-four in nineteen sixty-four.


"Ragged Old Flag"

DOUG JOHNSON: Instead of our usual music program, we close with a poem by the country singer Johnny Cash from nineteen seventy-four. “Ragged Old Flag” tells a story from the American flag’s point of view. Johnny Cash imagines the many historical events the American flag has seen and experienced since the founding of the United States.

JOHNNY CASH: I walked through a county courthouse square

On a park bench, an old man was sitting there.

I said, "Your old court house is kinda run down,

He said, "Naw, it'll do for our little town".

I said, "Your old flag pole is leaned a little bit,

And that's a ragged old flag you got hanging on it."

He said, "Have a seat." and I sat down,

"Is this the first time you've been to our little town?"

I said, "I think it is."

He said, "I don't like to brag, but we're kinda proud of

That Ragged Old Flag.

"You see, we got a little hole in that flag there,

When Washington took it across the Delaware.

And it got powder burned the night Francis Scott Key sat watching it,

Writing ‘Say Can You See.’

And it got a bad rip in New Orleans, with Packingham and Jackson

Tugging at its seams.

And it almost fell at the Alamo

Beside the Texas flag,

But she waved on though.

She got cut with a sword at Chancellorsville,

And she got cut again at Shiloh Hill.

There was Robert E. Lee, Beauregard and Bragg,

And the south wind blew hard on

That Ragged Old Flag.

"On Flanders Field in World War I,

She got a big hole from a Bertha Gun,

She turned blood red in World War II

She hung limp, and low, a time or two.

She was in Korea, Vietnam.

She went where she was sent by her Uncle Sam.

She waved from our ships upon the briny foam

And now they've about quit waving her back here at home.

In her own good land here

She's been abused,

She's been burned, dishonored, denied and refused.

And the government for which she stands

Is scandalized throughout the land.

And she's getting thread bare, and she's wearing thin.

But she's in good shape, for the shape she's in.

Cause she's been through the fire before

And I believe she can take a whole lot more.

So we raise her up every morning

We take her down every night,

We don't let her touch the ground,

And we fold her up right.

On second thought

I do like to brag

‘Cause I'm mighty proud of

That Ragged Old Flag."

DOUG JOHNSON: I'm Doug Johnson. Our program was written and produced by Dana Demange with reporting by Mike DeFabo.

You can find transcripts, MP3s and podcasts of our shows at

Join us again next week for AMERICAN MOSAIC, VOA’s radio magazine in Special English.

(MUSIC: “This Land is Your Land” / Counting Crows)