Veterans, civilians turn out on flag-waving Independence Day

Published 7:10 pm Wednesday, July 5, 2006

Families sat down to picnics, attended parades, and crowded parks and rooftops to watch fireworks as the nation celebrated its 230th birthday Tuesday.

More than 120,000 bursts of color, light and pyrotechnics filled the darkness as The New York Pops regaled crowds with a soundtrack of patriotic standards and original music charting America’s evolution.

“I never miss it. It’s a tradition,” said Rafael Perez, 21, one of tens of thousands of people who mobbed the South Street Seaport in lower Manhattan to watch the show.

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At Fort Bragg, N.C., home of the 82nd Airborne Division, President Bush offered thanks and encouragement to the troops.

“You are serving our country at a time when our country needs you. And because of your courage, every day is Independence Day in America,” Bush told an estimated 3,500 service members at an outdoor speech.

As many as 500,000 people gathered in Boston for a concert and fireworks extravaganza near the Charles River, state police estimated. Some held American flags, and others clutched red-white-and-blue pompons as they sat on blankets on the grass.

Alicia Dumont, 10, of Quincy, Mass., wore a red and blue Statue of Liberty-style crown and a red tank top to the festival.

“I think it’s awesome,” she said. “It’s spectacular just to celebrate the Fourth of July and see all the colors.”

Earlier Tuesday, the city began its celebration with a reading of the Declaration of Independence from a balcony at the Old State House, where townspeople first heard it more than two centuries ago.

In many regions, the searing heat and near-drought conditions tamped down the celebration Tuesday.

About 100 people were treated for heat exhaustion in Washington, D.C., after an Independence Day parade in humid, 90-degree weather near the Mall. Most of the patients were marchers, said Alan Etter, a spokesman for the District of Columbia fire and EMS Department. One was hospitalized.

Because of the hot, dry weather in Mandan, N.D., fire trucks were held out of the July Fourth parade.

“We don’t want to get hung up in a parade and can’t get out. It’s just too risky,” said Mandan Rural Fire Chief Lynn Gustin.

In Frostburg, Md., Floyd Wigfield, an 87-year-old veteran of the 1944 D-Day invasion, was among the estimated 1,200 veterans who lined up for a half-mile during a Fourth of July parade.

“They’re celebrating all the veterans for years and years,” said Wigfield, of Cumberland, Md., who wore his green wool Army uniform despite the soaring heat.

There also was quiet reflection during the long holiday weekend. In Yakima, Wash., a crowd of more than 200 people prayed quietly at the dedication late Monday of a war memorial honoring six soldiers and Marines with ties to the area who have died in Iraq.

“I hope when people see it, it brings a reality to them,” said Nancy Sides, stepmother of Marine Lance Cpl. Dustin L. Sides, one of the six.