Sunday, July 03, 2005

Freedom Blast

Last night we went to the inaugural of Freedom Blast, Salt Lake's new version of Provo's long-running Independence Day Stadium of Fire extravaganza. SOF has been a sellout event for decades. Last night just short of thirty thousand folks showed up to Rice Eccles stadium on the campus of U of U to enjoy a Kelly Clarkson concert, a patriotic program involving a thousand dancers, bagpipers, and a moving military memorial service conducted by all five branches. There was also a BMX/blade/board act and even a high-dive troupe.

There was a street fair set up in one corner of the stadium parking lot. The Marines were doing a land office business exchanging spiffs like carribiner lanyards, tshirts, and posters in exchange for how many pullups from the boys and men and arm hang times from the womenfolk. One little girl (ten years old - maybe) stayed up there for one hundred ten seconds! I was watching the fun when one of the sergeants asked "Hey, are you a former Marine?"; yah, my hair is short and I still have the shoulders, but it was probably the USMC pin on my NRA hat that clued her in. She reached under the counter and handed me a handsome blue baseball cover (hats don't exist in the Marines - they are "covers") embroidered on front with the eagle, globe, and anchor in gold, with "Marines" stitched beneath it. That's when I noticed the rest of the old jarheads packed around the booth. We are a rough looking lot, but damn it was a proud moment. The Marines manning the booth were all out of the local recruiting command. I ran into one staff sergeant who was a cannon cocker from my old battalion at Camp Pendleton. He'd left Alpha 1/11 (two tours to Iraq) to come to recruiting. He knew my former roommate Ron - who went on to retire as a SgtMaj with twenty two years - from Ron's time on the drill field. The crowd and confusion may have garbled the communication, but I believe that the staff sergeant was one of Ron's recruits when he was a D.I. Now I DO feel old...

The show opened with a local lady singing a very good rendition of the national anthem. The boys from the 338th Fighter Wing at Hill AFB showed up spot on cue at the end of the last note with five F-16's punching cans traveling south to north about five hundred feet over the lights. So loud it HURT - love that sound. You could even smell the JP in the air afterward.

Twenty four new citizens were sworn in on the main stage. No standing O from the crowd; they got one for me. Legal immigrants understand the preciousness of citizenship more than we who are born here. We can always use more like that.

The military memorial ceremony effected me strongly. I don't think I've been quite right at some deep level since 1983. The calling of the roll, ending with the three, unanswered, calls of the name of the fallen and capped by twenty one guns and taps just about reduced me to tears.

The trumpeter had his own problems with dry lips; it took nothing away from the solemnity of the moment.

The military departed the field to the strains of "Amazing Grace" played by a pipe and drum band. I have always loved the pipes. I can readily believe that somewhere back in the mists of time, some Scot invented them because he couldn't get his companions motivated for a fight. Introduce bagpipes to a Quaker service and the next thing you know there will fisticuffs in the aisles. Pipes at a PETA picnic? There would be an ox on a spit before you could shake a stick. I love the pipes.

Ms. Clarkson put on a good show. She remarked on the dry air more than once and I believe that the lack of humidity had a lot to do with the lack of an encore. She carried a water bottle constantly. Pretty good pipes; she recalls a Janice Joplin without the edginess. Or the depression.

The fireworks were not as impressive as what we've seen at SOF. In the past we've usually climbed on the roof of our house in south Orem to watch them. The Freedom Blast people also had a technical glitch with their ignition system that caused an interruption and forty minute delay. In the spirit of "the show must go on" the BMX kids and the dive team improvised to fill the time. The problem was eventually solved and we sat happily beneath the last fifteen minutes of smoke, light, and thunder "oohing" and "aahing" and cheering along with everyone else. Not a bad show for their first effort.

Home via TRAX light rail to Sandy, thence by Mighty Mini to Orem, arriving just after one in the morning. I had hoped that UTA would put on the same logistical tour de force they did during the 2002 Olympics. Back then we were among the last people to leave the stadium (Mrs. Utah doesn't do bleachers very well), but less than thirty minutes after the end of the Para Olympics opening ceremonies over sixty thousand people were on their way home via dedicated buses and express rail trains. They ran a few extra trains last night, but only one express to the Sandy park and ride. It took almost an hour to leave the stadium grounds.

A good time was had by all.

Tomorrow we will have a curtailed potluck barbeque in our driveway and then haul our cannon down to the park to bust off a few blanks. Neighborhood children get the honor of lighting the fuse but only after they answer a history question like "who gave the Gettysburg Address?" or "what year did we declare independence?". We hope to have finished the fireworks in the culdesac by ten. Six a.m. comes early, even if you are only dealing with a belly full of pork and not a case of beer.

As our weekend winds down I hope that we all take a moment to reflect on just how we have arrived at this Independence Day. Celebrate the freedoms we enjoy, understand just why this grand experiment has worked so well, remember what it costs to be free, and resolve to do what we must do to ensure that this bright light of democracy continues to shine in a dark and dangerous world.

God Bless America. Guide her leaders, protect those who stand to defend her, and give grace to those who live here in oblivion of the cost of freedom in the hope that someday they, too, can love this nation for its honest pursuit of ideals rather than condemn it for its imperfections.

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