CHIPLEY - Merl "Butch" Butschke may not attend a fireworks show today, but, his AmVets Post 7 friends will celebrate the nation's independence with an annual July 4 community gathering.

"We're having a cookout", said Butschke, the commander of the post. "It's kind of like a big family because everyone who comes knows you; and if not, it won't take long."

The event will be held at 1 p.m. at the post, 1156 E. Jackson Ave. It's free and open to the public. Donations will be accepted.

Although there won't be any shock-and-awe from the glowing lights and booming sounds of fireworks, the event accommodates the social needs of veterans that may suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and who look forward to commemorating the country's independence in an open environment.

"We have one young guy who has a mental problem - he can't sit still," Butschke said. "He'll sit down for a few minutes, then he has to walk around. Some people don't understand that he has to do that just to think. He can't sit still."

"Here," he added, "you don't get that - 'what's wrong with him.'"

Butschke, of Holmes County, is a 75-year-old army veteran from Southern California who served in the Vietnam and Gulf wars. He made the area his home after repeatedly being sent through the Fort Rucker army base in Alabama.

"It's a place where veterans can go, relax, sit with their brothers and not have to worry about civilians," said Hunter Fletcher , the post's Sons of AmVets Commander. "You have the camaraderie up here. They don't have to see new faces all the time."

Fletcher, 29, is the grandson of a Vietnam veteran and has volunteered at the post for about two years. He said he noticed his grandfather is "more relaxed" when he is at the post.

AmVets (American Veterans) is a veterans service organization with membership including all who honorably served in the U.S. military. The local post is regularly engages in public service. It participates in Toys for Tots as well as volunteerism at Sims Veterans Home in Bay County.

Late Friday afternoon, Butschke sat at the bar and chatted with Fletcher who was on the other side of the bar, leaning in to further engage in the conversation.

He recalled a time he heard a loud boom while at work in Germany and the effect it had on him due to his time at war.

"The first thing I did was hit the deck and I had been out of Vietnam for 10-15 years," he said. "It's just the reaction."

"You'll never get over it," he added.

Butschke said he had attended firework shows before. But he's "not thrilled about the loud bangs."

Luckily, the post is dedicated to ensuring the Independence Day celebration will be held in a way that will resonate with veterans, as well as, the greater community.

To join AmVets, pick up an application from AmVets Post 7, 1156 E. Jackson Ave., or submit it online at To find out more about Post 7 and the Fourth of July event, call 850-658-8408.