Before you light those fireworks…

2015 marks the 239th birthday of this glorious nation. 239 years of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, guaranteed us by the Constitution and defended by the brave men and women who have fought and died to preserve these precious rights for all of us.

In towns and cities all across the country, people will gather to watch parades and pageants, chow down on all-American fare like hot dogs, hamburgers and corn on the cob.

Some will participate in historical reenactments, baseball games or maybe an old- fashioned pie eating contest. Bells will be rung, bonfires lit, and buildings festooned with red, white and blue bunting. Thousands upon thousands of American flags will be proudly on display at public buildings and private residences. In town squares, “criers” dressed in colonial period clothing will read copies of the Declaration of Independence aloud to attentive and patriotic audiences.

John Adams himself, predicted future celebrations of the Fourth of July in a 1776 letter to his wife Abigail, in which he wrote, “I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding generations, as the great anniversary Festival.”

And of course, we can’t forget the fireworks. Adams mentioned them in his letter as well stating that the day should be celebrated with “…illuminations from one end of this Continent to the other from this time forward forever more.”

Of course, Adams couldn’t possibly have foreseen the sad irony that many of the courageous people who have fought to defend the rights and principles celebrated on the glorious Fourth, would be unable to attend and enjoy these “illuminations” due to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

It’s estimated that between 7 and 20 percent of the more than 2.5 million veterans and active duty military personnel who served in Iraq and Afghanistan have developed PTSD. The explosions from fireworks, the flashing glare and the whistling sounds, can trigger emotional reactions that bring back very stressful and painful memories. In some cases a re-experiencing of a traumatic event like a firefight or the death of a friend in combat may characterize the disorder.

These are very real concerns so PLEASE, this Fourth of July, be courteous with fireworks. There are steps we can all take to show our respect, thanks and compassion for our military personnel.

First of all, make yourself aware of veterans who may live near you. Don’t hesitate to open a dialogue with them to find out if fireworks are particularly upsetting.

Consider attending a public display of fireworks instead of setting off your own in the neighborhood. If you decide to set of fireworks, let your neighbors know when and where you’ll be setting them off and how long you expect it to last. Don’t deviate from that schedule. Setting them off at unexpected times during the day could be particularly stressful. Choose a location that is as far away as possible from any veterans in your neighborhood. And don’t go overboard. Keep the number of fireworks you set off to a minimum. Limit them to the Fourth and don’t keep setting them off all weekend.

We owe these brave men and women a great debt of gratitude. Being aware of the effect fireworks can have on them and acting accordingly is the least we can do to say “thank you, for your service and sacrifice”.

Karen Worcester is the Executive Director of Wreaths Across America, a national non-profit with a mission to Remember, Honor, and Teach about the service and sacrifice of our veterans and their families.