By Sara E. Martin, Army Flier Staff WriterJuly 11, 2013
FORT RUCKER, Ala. (July 11, 2013) -- Rain snuffed out the fireworks July 3, closed vendors and disappointed others who had been eagerly waiting for one of the biggest events of the year-- Freedom Fest.
But it would take more than a downpour to ruin the celebration that Fort Rucker had been planning for more than six months.
"Sometimes the bear gets you and sometimes you get the bear," said Col. Stuart J. McRae, garrison commander. "Today, the bear got the better part of us, but we are celebrating nonetheless."
Fort Rucker had a contingency plan that allowed the 98th Army Silver Wings Band Crossfire to still hold its high-energy performance with guest singer McKayla Reece by relocating it to the post theater.
"We are really sad. It was going to be an awesome event, but we tried to make the best out of the weather," said Lisa Eichhorn, Fort Rucker Public Affairs Officer. "It (was) a good time regardless."
"I think it is important that we show the community that we will push through, and will continue to celebrate our Soldiers and their Families and our independence," said Kristi Fink, special events coordinator.
This year's celebration was geared to be more of a hometown celebration, and civilians as far as Louisiana came to enjoy fried desserts, live entertainment and fireworks.
"One of our biggest messages we try to send is that Fort Rucker is not closed to the public, it just has guards at the gate," said McRae. "We depend on our communities as much as they depend on us."
Maj. Gen. Kevin W. Mangum, U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence and Fort Rucker commanding general, agreed.
"Many of the awards we have won this year can be attributed to our great neighbors and the support we get from our neighbors in the Wiregrass area," he said. "It is great to be in the Army and it is great to be at Fort Rucker, but it's even greater to live in the Wiregrass."
This was the first time in around 30 years that the fireworks were cancelled, but for people who attended the concert it didn't matter.
"This Fourth of July is special to me because I am honoring the many fallen from Iraq and Afghanistan, one of which being my nephew, who was killed in Iraq by an IED in 2006," said retired Coast Guard Capt. Walt Viglienzone, a Vietnam veteran.
As individuals, Viglienzone said that people should respect those who serve, honor the Families of the fallen and consider saying 'Thank you,' to anyone who serves the community, such as a Soldier, a firefighter or a police officer.
"I came today as a survivor -- to reach out to other Family members to share our stories," said an emotional Viglienzone. "Many of us build a barrier and it is nice when people say 'I am sorry and I care.' That is something that we need to hear."
The Families of the fallen gathered together and shared some hospitality, and their trails, pain and some of the positive stories with one another.
"I remember July 4th, 1969, because that was the day I left Vietnam," said the Coast Guard veteran. "I had to turn in all my gear and weapons. I have never felt so naked, but I never felt as fortunate as that day when I got on the plane to come home with no wounds, only memories."
From senior leaders to small children, all agreed that the Fourth of July isn't just fireworks and picnics, but is about honoring the birth of a nation.
"It is a chance to celebrate the freedom of our country and what our forefathers have done for us, to include everyone who has served in the military, as well as everyone who serves as a citizen," said McRae. "That is what matters."
Despite the weather, Mangum said that the fact that the big celebration had to be cut short doesn't diminish what those who came before have done.
"This week there were a few major milestones in history," he said. "Monday was the 40th anniversary of the all-volunteer force. So, for 40 years young men and women have been volunteering to serve a cause greater (than themselves). They give all they have, all they are for the cause of freedom which has allowed us to celebrate this birthday today."
"There are some who gave more than their fair share," he continued. "Thank you for making a difference."
This week also marked the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg where 51,000 perished in less than a week, said the commanding general.
Four hundred and thirty two flags would have adorned a portion of the festival fields if the rain had not been so intense. Each flag represented a Soldier from this area that perished in the fight for freedom in the battle against terrorism.