A brilliant Independence Day at Fort Vancouver

Celebration features sun, fun, fireworks

By Sue Vorenberg, Columbian features reporter

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July Fourth Celebration

photoPat Dye, 85, enjoys the festivities.

(/The Columbian)

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Pat Dye found the perfect Fourth of July hat almost by accident.

The 85-year-old, who donned the red, white and blue headpiece for the Independence Day at Fort Vancouver celebration, stopped by Fred Meyer in the morning and saw it in the discount aisle.

Although her new purchase looks like a misguided collaboration from Dr. Seuss and Uncle Sam, it was the perfect fit for a long day topped off with a brilliant display of fireworks in honor of our nation's birth.

"It was on sale, so I bought it," Dye said, briefly removing it while watching the afternoon parade of children, pipers, classic cars and Army vehicles. "It doesn't do my hair any justice, but that's OK."

The Vancouver senior also wore a red, white and blue lei with her USA sweatshirt on the warm but breezy Thursday.

Dye, who worked as a nurse anesthetist for 32 years, started her career in the last class of the Cadet Nurse Corps during World War II. She said she loves the holiday's patriotism.

But while she's lived in Clark County for several years, she had never attended the Fort Vancouver festivities before.

"I usually watch on television, but it's just such a nice day. I couldn't turn it down," Dye said Thursday.

Throughout the day, families browsed the political booths, henna tattoo stands, jewelry shops, face painters and food vendors that had set up tents around the Parade Grounds. Others clustered in shady spots beneath trees and listened to bands playing a wide array of music on the main stage.

Several children, and more than a few adults, wandered around wearing inflatable airplane hats given out by Alaska Airlines as part of a raffle to support the National Historic Site.

Henry Martinez, 42, who's attended the celebration for the past four years, said he's actually glad the organizers charge a $7 admission fee. The event was free until 2009, when it shut down for financial reasons. It relaunched in 2010.

"Ever since they started charging, we've come," Martinez said. "When it was free, it was too crowded. Now there's room."

Martinez; his girlfriend, Toni Nelson, 32; and their daughter, Mariah Martinez, 7, have a carefully selected spot that they go to each year — up the hill and back a ways from the main stage.

"I look at where they're setting the fireworks up on the airfield and then I try to find a good line of site from there," Martinez said. "You don't want to have a tree in the way."

Mariah, donning a set of noise reduction headphones, hid under one of her father's sweatshirts as he talked. She didn't like the fireworks so much before she got the headset because the explosions scared her, Nelson said.

Still, there's plenty of fun events like hula hoop competitions and water balloon fights to keep her entertained each year, she admitted.

"I love it," Mariah said.

Nearby Tia Porotesano, 56, from Portland, and her sister Eteva Porotesano, 46, who is visiting from American Samoa, spent the day eagerly awaiting the evening's fireworks display.

Eteva Porotesano had never seen a big fireworks show before, she said.

"I've seen fireworks before, but only very small shows," she said.

Pat Dye, who hadn't attended a fireworks show since 1985 in Duluth, Minn., said she was glad she came.

"Oooh, those are good," she said, watching the showers of gold, pink, red, white and blue fill the sky as the fireworks display kicked off shortly after 10 p.m. "This is great."

What could make it even better? Someone was nice enough to return Dye's fanny pack after she accidentally left it in one of the porta potties.

"I'm more than grateful," she said. "This has been such a great day."

Sue Vorenberg: 360-735-4457; http://www.twitter.com/col_suevo;sue.vorenberg@columbian.com.