By Jim Dresbach, Pentagram Staff Writer July 15, 2013
WASHINGTON - An Independence Day early evening informal poll taken at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall's Whipple Field produced two results: more people than ever took in the national fireworks over the District of Columbia from JBM-HH and first-time viewers greatly outnumbered fireworks veterans.
A crowd estimated to be 25 to 50 percent larger than previous years spread dozens of blankets and unfolded hundreds of lawn chairs for the Capitol Fourth, the District of Columbia's fireworks display which originates from the National Mall.
While Whipple Field repeat visitors were in the audience, the crowd was saturated with first-time visitors. A family of 16, the Montemayor family, jetted to Washington from Austin, Texas and San Antonio for sightseeing and the Independence Day spectacular.
Young and old joint base newcomers made cross-country and cross-town trips for an evening of district detonations. Teenager Matthew Gallegos of Boise, Idaho, made it a point to stop by JBM-HH, while local Defense Department workers from as close as Alexandria relaxed and enjoyed the 24-minute show, which began a couple minutes after 9 p.m.
A number of groups ventured from Fort Belvoir following the 2013 discontinuation of their base fireworks show due to budget constraints. Megan and Alisha, a pair of military spouses from Belvoir, were game participants for hilltop seats.
"We've wanted to see the D.C. fireworks this year, since there are none at Fort Belvoir," the women explained. "We saw the Fort Meade fireworks last night [July 3], and we're here tonight."
The U.S. Army Band, "Pershing's Own," Downrange performed close to 30 songs from late afternoon to pre-dusk.
Nine hours before the National Mall fireworks display, a 50-gun salute to the nation was executed by 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) Presidential Salute Battery in honor of the holiday. The noon-time event drew a crowd of close to 200 spectators to Whipple Field including Maj. Gen. Jeffrey S. Buchanan, commander of Joint Force Headquarters-National Capital Region and U.S. Army Military District of Washington.
Col. James Markert, Old Guard regimental commander, spoke of the significance of independence and the thousands lost protecting freedom.
"This celebration, a 50-gun salute to the nation, is all about numbers, and that will be my theme today," the colonel began. "We have celebrated our independence on the Fourth of July for 237 years. We have enjoyed the liberties that are enshrined in our Constitution for 225 years. Our nation has been represented by the flag and defended by its Army for 238 years.
"As we celebrate this nation, it is worth remembering the soldiers and service members of the Armed Forces who earned our independence and kept us free," he continued. "The most important number seen in the [news]papers this week is the number 40. Since July of 1973 - for forty years - this nation has sustained an all-volunteer force."