This week always brings back some unpleasant memories. I know that Independence Day evokes thoughts of America’s newly won freedom for most people but for me it is a reminder of a different war that was bitterly contested on American soil in the 1960’s. Sadly it was brother against brother and friend against friend.
History is dotted with numerous tales of human conflict. Many of these had colorful names and others just kind of told you how long they lasted. For example there was the Hundred Years’ War that actually lasted 116 years and then there was the Seven Weeks’ War started up by Otto Von Bismarck in 1866 as well as the even shorter Six Day War of 1967 in the Middle East.
On the colorful side there was the War of Jenkins’ Ear. This fracas was so named when the captain of a British merchant ship exhibited his severed ear to Parliament after losing it when his vessel was boarded by Spanish coast guards in 1731. Then there was the Whiskey Rebellion. Mess with a guy’s alcoholic beverage of choice and you’ll always have a revolt on your hands.
The war I’m referring to however has subsequently been named by historians as the Annual Single Day Bottle Rocket War of Morgan County and I was surprised to see that it was not listed as one of the major conflicts of global warfare in Wikepedia.
Let me give you the particulars.
In the years between 1964 and 1970 right around the Fourth of July there always seemed to appear a goodly supply of fireworks (the bulk of which were bottle rockets) at our house. These armaments provided the ammunition for the combatants in our annual fracas.
The reason that these hostilities broke out on a yearly basis was simple. It was set aside as the time when all brotherly disputes of the previous year could be settled in a fair and gentlemanly fashion. Kind of like dueling. The loser was required to pay homage to the winning sibling in the form of absolute servitude for a week. It was a bitter pill to swallow when your brother ordered you to shine his shoes before church or go pick his quota of butterbeans. As you might imagine it was quite competitive.
Each brother was allowed to choose a partner from outside the family to act as his second and those selections were critical. I always favored Reverend Jim not only because of his aptitude as an accurate gunner but because he was big enough to quash any arguments from our opponents regarding rule violations.
The setting for the battle was our pond and the appointed hour for firing to commence was always after dark. Each team would build a fortification on opposite sides of this line of demarcation but within bottle rocket range. The better your protective bunker the less chance you had of actually having an eye put out or being maimed by a stray rocket. The optimum characteristics for these forts were to offer maximum protection yet allow as many firing angles as possible.
The ammo was divided up equally so each team had about one hundred shots apiece plus a half dozen or so hand grenades in the form of firecrackers. It was permissible to leave the fort in order to lob these hand grenades at the opposition but to do so put one in danger of close range rocket fire which was much more precise than long range shots across the pond. Therefore lobbing hand grenades was used only as a last ditch strategy. No one wanted to take a direct hit from those speeding little streaks of gun powder.
When the signal was given to initiate firing each team had a decision to make. How could we most accurately deliver our shots? The best method was to put the rockets in a coke bottle and light the fuse then aim and try to determine the proper trajectory. Since the weapons were notorious for whizzing through the air in a most erratic way we pretty much just trusted to luck that one would find the mark and score a bull’s eye. A direct hit would be the highlight of any encounter because it would cause much yelping and squalling from the other bank and would most likely secure a triumphant result.
The fighting would rage over the course of an hour or two at the end of which I (being the oldest brother) would always declare victory. If there were any question as to whether that was a fair determination of the outcome I’d ask Reverend Jim to render a neutral opinion and that would quickly end the discussion.
History will record that this famous battle occurred annually for several years until Mama found out about it and brought the proceedings to a swift conclusion. Up until then she was always proud of my beautifully shined shoes on those Sundays following the Great Bottle Rocket War and it was an added perk to be able to avoid picking butterbeans in the garden that following week.
Alvin Richardson is a contributing writer, retired educator, and public speaker. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.