FORT RUCKER, Ala. -- For some, Fort Rucker's Freedom Fest is an annual tradition. For others, July 3 was their first time celebrating the nation's birthday here.

Freedom Fest was held on the Fort Rucker festival grounds for the second consecutive year, and attended by more than 26,000 people, according to Emily Klein, Directorate of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation special events coordinator.

Retired Sgt. 1st Class Eldon Davies, a Vietnam veteran, began what he intends to be a new Family tradition. He brought his two grandchildren, Madison and Jeremy Brown, 5 and 1, and said he hopes they'll understand the Fourth of July's importance as they grow older.

Participating in such a patriotic event was meaningful, Davies noted.

"Even after being retired for 22 years, I'm still 'Army,'" he said. "(Attending Freedom Fest) was a small way to show my support."

Earl Washington and his wife, Lena, have attended Freedom Fest since 1986. Both keep coming back for their favorite part of the event - the fireworks display.

"Freedom Fest shows people still appreciate the military," Earl, a retired sergeant first class, said.

The Daleville couple plans to continue visiting Fort Rucker every year they are able, they said.

Other Families played in the Children's Zone, viewed static helicopter displays, munched on traditional festival foods and listened to the 98th Army Band fill the installation's festival grounds with patriotic tunes.

Student pilot WO1 Chase Snider, B Company, 1st Battalion, 145th Aviation Regiment, came to show off the AH-64D Apache helicopter he's training on to his wife, Baxter, and 4-month-old son, Colt.

Honoring his fellow comrades fighting in the Middle East was also a special part of his weekend, Snider said.

"It's a chance to respect the (Soldiers) overseas and celebrate them," he said.

One of Fort Rucker's newest commanders, Col. Patrick Denman, U.S. Army Aeromedical Center, and his wife, Yolanda, said they were excited to see such a Family-friendly event taking place at their new home.

Independence Day is about much more than just having a good time though, the couple said, as they viewed the Survivor Outreach Services' Field of Flags display. They watched as 430 small flags waived in the summer breeze, representing Alabama and northwest Florida servicemembers killed since Sept. 11, 2001.

"(The saying) 'freedom is not free' wraps it up," the colonel said. "To live the way we do takes sacrifice."

This theme was represented during an evening performance when Army spouse Lisa Pratt paid a musical tribute to fallen servicemembers, joined by the 98th Army Band.

"Thank you to all our Soldiers and Families for what they do for our country. You make me proud and you make the Wiregrass area proud of what you do every day," Maj. Gen. James O. Barclay III, U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence and Fort Rucker commanding general, said during the tribute ceremony. "We must never forget all the sacrifices made by the Soldiers who came before us."

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16