I'm recording these remarks in advance. At the moment, I'm with my wife and some of our children and grandchildren, where we've spent the last 15 Independence Days.
We take folding chairs down to the esplanade in front of our home, and can actually see the boat from which the fireworks will be launched as soon as the sun sets. There's something special about fireworks and the Fourth of July.
I've watched them in awe for a lot of years. I've seen grand displays in Coney Island, in Chicago, in England during my World War II service. I've watched them on the monument grounds at Griffith Stadium. The truth is, the fireworks haven't changed much through the years. There are a few new wrinkles, but by and large, they're the same displays that I saw as a child and as a young man.
Funny thing about the Fourth of July fireworks: You never tire of them. I've watched them with my childhood friends, with other soldiers, with my kids and my grandkids. I've seen the same displays dozens of times.
But the "oohhs" and the "ahhs" as each shell ascends and bursts are the same. I'll let you in on a little secret: It's best with grandkids. I've watched them through changing times too: the Great Depression, as well as boom times, in wartime and in times of peace. The excitement of the fireworks, of the marching bands, the patriotic music, the pride that we feel at our country, its ideals and its freedoms, and that it's developed into the strongest, richest, most advanced country in the world are all strongest on this date.
I have a feeling we're not quite as united as in the past. We're much larger, more varied and complex. I remember hearing in the first grade that the population of the United States had reached 120 million. In the space of my lifetime, we have grown to over 300 million. We've changed from a rural to a largely urban society. Everything is bigger, faster, and more involved. Our patience in seeking solutions is shorter.
We've moved from a manufacturing economy to a high-tech information society. And other nations now challenge us for leadership in some areas. Our politics have changed too. We've always quarreled, but it seems that nowadays, the quarrels are nastier, more bitter.
In many respects, we're a better nation. Certainly, we show more respect for one another. Race relations have improved markedly. The role and status of women have changed us greatly. Our understanding and our respect for various minority groups have made us a better people. We still have enormous problems in the economy, education, and international relations.
The fireworks, the marching bands, and the birthday excitement bring us together and lessen the bickering on this date. Wouldn't it be nice if we could extend this euphoria year-round?