It was a memorable holiday weekend across Franklin County, and nowhere was that more apparent than in Apalachicola, which kicked off the celebration with an enormous July 3 Independence Day Eve gathering.
The crowd was sparse during the afternoon at Riverfront Park, but the line that queued up at Lafayette Park at 6 p.m. was by far the longest to date, winding almost to U.S. 98, with golf carts, bicycles, tractors, wagons, dogs and every conceivable outfit adorning the inauguration of the nationís 239th birthday party.
The 11th annual Red, White and Blue parade was led by grand marshal Bill Spohrer, and his wife Lynn. The first Grand Marshall to honor our military veterans, Spohrer served in Vietnam in the very early years of the American presence.
As a young lieutenant from the University of Oklahoma, fresh from completing a Fulbright scholarship year of study in France in 1954, Spohrer served two years in Indochina as aide-de-camp in 1955-56 to the American Advisory Group commander Brig. Gen. Miller O. Perry. Later, Spohrer later became an international leader in the aviation industry, and in Apalachicola as a community leader in preservation and economic growth.
The presence of veterans was robust in the celebration, with Franklin's Promise Coalition, Inc. providing the decorations and posters to honor military family members. Volunteers passed out decorations and American flags in preparation for the march to the riverfront.
Jimmy Elliott, a veteran of Vietnam, Operation Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom, spoke before the enormous crowd that gathered in the evening at Riverfront Park. Organized by Main Street, and featuring scores of volunteers doing everything from breading shrimp to cooking chicken wings, the fourth annual firework extravaganza at the park featured not only complimentary ice cream, but the largest assembly to date.
Elliott spoke movingly of the sacrifice he had witnessed among the soldiers he served with, all the way up to the most recent Middle East conflict, where as a National Guardsmen called to active duty, he was among the most senior platoon sergeants in the Armyís presence in Iraq.
Elliott told of a young soldier who he met in advanced training for Vietnam, an Alabama family man who once broke down, crying, that he would be going overseas and would never see his wife and children again. Elliott consoled him, and boosted his spirits. Later, when Elliott arrived in Vietnam and met a fellow solder from advanced training, he learned that the Alabama man had indeed been killed in Southeast Asia, not long before he was set to return home to the wife and children he loved..
Following Elliottís remarks, Debbie Fletcher sang the national anthem, which led directly in to a more than 20-minute fireworks extravaganza that lit up the sky over the Apalachicola River with swirls and starbursts, culminating in a memorable grand finale.
Earlier in the day, St. George Island hosted the first of its two traditional wet and wild parades, the second one on Monday morning.
On Saturday, the Lanark Village Boat Club hosted its annual Independence Day picnic. That night there were fireworks on the Carrabelle River provided by the city of Carrabelle. In addition, the Blue Parrot on St. George Island hosted its annual Freedom Fest.