Hundreds of red, white and blue balloons lofted into the air above Evans Towne Center toward a giant cloud blocking the sun just as a ray of light broke through.
More than 400 balloons were released as part of a flag-raising ceremony at the third annual Columbia County Red, White and Blue Veterans Celebration held Saturday at the Doctors Hospital field behind the Evans Kroger.
The Memorial Day celebration began at 6 p.m. with opening remarks from Columbia County Board of Commissioners Chairman Ron Cross on the importance of honoring veterans and active-duty military, police officers and firefighters.
"Recent events have turned our attention toward those serving to protect our country and it is important to renew our commitment to those in our area," Cross said. "I feel the former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill in an address to British troops said it best when he said, 'Never have so many owed so much to so few."'
A dazzling fireworks show punctuated the event as thousands turned out to honor veterans and active-duty military with patriotic music, speeches, flag retirement ceremonies and a parade.
Cross led the parade by driving a 1960s model Chevy Impala. He was followed by the Evans Junior ROTC Color Guard, a group of soldiers and sailors marching in formation, and a troop of Girl Scouts, many of whom were holding pictures of parents or grandparents that have served or are currently serving in the U.S. armed forces.
Girl Scouts marching in the Red, White & Blue Veterans Celebration parade in Evans carry photos of family members who are serving or who have served in the armed forces.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
"We were very happy to have been asked to be a part of this, because a lot of people don't realize there are Navy and Air Force and Marine personnel serving out of Fort Gordon along with the Army," said Navy petty officer Charlotte Cessna, who marched in the parade. "It's nice to be recognized in this way for the hard work that all of us do in all branches of the military."
Among the many patriotic elements of the celebration was Martinez resident Clayton English dressed as a colorful Uncle Sam with a flag-themed top hat, tailed coat with tiny blue flags, a blue vest, red and white striped pants and star-spangled socks.
"This is just a thing I like to do whenever I'm needed," said English as he posed for pictures and passed out small American flags. "I get to show my patriotism and try to get others to show theirs."
Included in the festivities were arts and crafts displays, food vendors, and a wall of patriotic art entries by pupils of Grovetown Elementary School.
One poignant display was a float sponsored by the Georgia Forestry Commission dedicated to the men and women who died in the space shuttle Columbia explosion.
The float, which featured a replica of the Columbia, sat beneath a 40-foot by 20-foot American flag and was lined with pictures of the seven astronauts who lost their lives. Printed on the float was a quote from President George W. Bush that read, "The same Creator who names the stars also knows the names of the seven souls we mourn today. The crew of the shuttle Columbia did not return safely to Earth; yet we can pray that all are safely home."
Among the guest speakers at the event were Fort Gordon commander Brig. Gen. Janet Hicks and U.S. Rep Charlie Norwood. Norwood came to honor Evans resident Joseph Buckland, who served in all four branches of the U.S.armed forces in three different wars over a span of 23 years.
"Things like this can really mean a lot to veterans like us," said Ruben Scott, a former Army corporal who served in the 1950s and now lives in Lincolnton. "For a long time I don't think people recognized Memorial Day the way the should and I'm glad they're starting to. A lot of people have suffered and died to protect our freedoms."
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