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Florida American Legion Post 135 Provides July 4 Escape’ for Veterans

 wanting to get away from fireworks

After spending 10 years in the U.S. Air Force – much of that time as a field medic assigned to an Army unit in Afghanistan – Staff Sgt. Sean Liebman received an honorable discharge and a 90-percent disability rating in June 2020. He moved from Maryland to Crystal River, Fla., was close to opening a gym, was working to get licensed to teach CPR and began bowling at Manatee Lanes.

It was doing the latter where he met and became friends with Vicky Post – and it was in Crystal River where, on June 5 of last year, Liebman took his own life. He was already battling post-traumatic stress disorder; any loud noises would upset him and make him restless. Post believes it was the Fourth of July fireworks that led Liebman to die by suicide.

“The booms and the flashes and everything else with the fireworks took him and his PTSD to essentially a place he couldn’t come back from,” said Post, a member of American Legion Auxiliary Unit 155 in Crystal River. “He was a 30-year-old man who had everything going for him. A great guy. Super friendly. So when I found out what he went through, I thought, ‘Something needs to be done about this … to give these veterans with PTSD a safe place to go on the Fourth of July so they don’t have to listen to that and deal with that.”

That led Post to organize “Escape the Fireworks” on July 4 at Post 155. From 6 p.m. to midnight, the event provided veterans wanting to get away from the fireworks with a DJ, karaoke, food and beverages. Post said she was hoping for around 50 people to show up, but 92 signed in during the course of the night.

Post said she approached Blanton-Thompson Post 155 Commander Douglas Hockenberry about renting out the post’s back hall for the event. “And he was like, ‘You’re not going to rent the hall. You’re going to have it,’” said Post.

Post, whose husband Jeffrey is a member of Post 155, said on the night of the event, those attending weren’t asked too many questions about why they decided to show up. “It was just a safe place where if they needed to come, they could come,” she said. “I just wanted that camaraderie of a happy place to celebrate our country’s freedom without having to deal with those fireworks and the side effects with that. And that’s what we did and what happened. It was pretty awesome.

“I was kind of anticipating it being more of my friends and people I knew just coming out to support, and less people I didn’t know. But there were actually more people there that I didn’t know than I did know. We really reached a group of people that I feel is not thought of. In doing this, one of my goals was to increase that awareness.”

Post said she’s now looking at making “Escape the Fireworks” an annual event in Crystal River while expanding it to other local towns that have fireworks displays around July 4th and New Year’s Eve.

“I’ve already got my wheels turning about where I can go to do it in Inverness, which is the next bigger city,” Post said. “I would love to see it spread. I’m really hoping this is not only going to become a regular thing and more and more cities become involved, but also increase awareness.

“When I first heard that Sean passed away … I had no idea he had PTSD. I had just seen him a couple days (earlier) and he was just happy and telling me all his plans. When I found out he had PTSD and took his life … it broke my heart. I don’t want that to happen to anybody else.”