Fourth of July Celebration: Flying free at the Fort

The fireworks are just the finale of a day of commemoration

By Ray Legendre, Columbian staff writer

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Independence Day at Fort Vancouver

photoFireworks light up the Monday evening sky at the Independence Day celebration at the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site. Two years after the pyrotechnics had to be canceled because of the cost, attendees rejoiced to have them back.

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photoMacy Burrows, 10, of Portland listens to music near the Toyota Main Stage during Monday’s Independence Day at Fort Vancouver celebration at the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site.

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photoGrant Reiner, 6, rests on dad Jim Reiner of Vancouver Monday during Independence Day at Fort Vancouver.

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photoThe Lewis and Clark Young Marines re-create the flag-raising at Iwo Jima on Monday afternoon.

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photoA crowd gathers Monday afternoon in advance of the night’s massive fireworks display during Independence Day at Fort Vancouver.

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photoThousands poured into the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site for the all-day show.

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A magnificent array of multicolored fireworks illuminated the Vancouver sky and delighted thousands of onlookers for 20 minutes Monday night in celebration of America’s 235th birthday.

The fireworks culminated Independence Day at Fort Vancouver presented by Bank of America, which featured a kids’ patriotic parade with bagpipes and pictures of the area’s war casualties, multiple music stages featuring country, rock and soul performers, and actor Steve Holgate portraying President Abraham Lincoln giving a Civil War-era press conference.

Attendees said Fort Vancouver’s Independence Day festivities gave their families an opportunity to spend the day together while reflecting on the sacrifices necessary to preserve America’s freedom, enjoying hours of entertainment under a cloudless sky and experiencing one of the area’s largest fireworks displays.

“It’s the best party in town,” said Vancouver resident Ruby Butts, 50, while holding her 3-year-old grandson, Austin.

Independence Day has been celebrated at Fort Vancouver for 48 years, but Monday’s festivities marked the second year under the event’s new paid admission format. The Fort Vancouver National Trust canceled the event in 2009 due to economic hardships. Event organizers did not have an estimate for attendance Monday, but were hoping it would match or exceed its 2010 incarnation. The event had 35,000 attendees then, its first year back.

Adults paid $5 for tickets purchased in advance and $7 for tickets bought Monday. Children age 12 and younger were admitted free. Bank of America sponsored the event.

Organizers relied on user surveys this year to enhance the overall product, said Cara Cantonwine, director of programs for the Fort Vancouver National Trust. Among the changes were more children’s events and a larger patriotic parade. Fred Meyer sponsored the parade and the Community Military Appreciation Committee organized its lineup, which included antique veterans vehicles and family members carrying photos of veterans killed in action.

Nothing for granted

Butts said the Fort Vancouver National Trust’s decision to cancel July 4 festivities two years ago “broke my heart.” She estimated that between 15 to 20 family members would gather to watch the fireworks later Monday.

Austin wore a plush top hat featuring stars and stripes. Butts pledged to remind him not to take freedom for granted as he grew older.

“A lot of people don’t have that right now,” she said. “We should feel lucky we do.”

For Vancouver resident John Kohler, Monday’s event and other events like it serve as a pleasant reminder how far Americans have come in appreciating their war heroes’ sacrifices.

The 69-year-old Marine vet recalled being spat on when he returned home from the Vietnam War.

“Nowadays, when veterans are asked to stand up … everybody claps,” he said.

Kohler, a Hawaii native, also marveled at the entertainment value offered during the Independence Day celebration.

“This brings me back home,” he said, as he watched two young girls perform a hula dance.

Across the table from Kohler sat Teresa Fenton, a Salem, Ore., resident who traveled with her husband and five other family members to see the biggest fireworks display around. Her three children favored Vancouver’s fireworks extravaganza over the one in Bend, Ore., she added.

During the day, they planned to wander from stage to stage, taking in musical and historical performances before eventually finding a spot on the lawn with a good view for the evening’s finale.

“The fireworks are the fastest here,” Fenton said. “It’s not one at a time. It’s 10 to 15 at a time.”