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Freedom Fest features a flag-passing ceremony

June 30, 2002|By LAURA MITCHELL, Staff Writer

As Independence Day 2002 approaches, the hearts of Americans are fuller, more swollen with pride and heavy with sadness.

Many people in the United States and around the world shed tears upon hearing of the terrorist attacks Sept. 11 that killed thousands of people in New York, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C.

The images of fireballs and dust clouds are fresh in the minds of many.

"I don't think any of us are prepared for how we'll feel on July 4th this year," said Gene Brister, president and general manager of KXO Radio in El Centro.

The Imperial Valley will celebrate Independence Day Thursday with a number of fireworks displays and celebrations, the largest being Freedom Fest at Imperial Valley College.

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Ever since Sept. 11, patriotism in the country has been rejuvenated. This year Freedom Fest may have more visitors than ever, Brister said.

Olivia Ordona, special events coordinator for the El Centro Chamber of Commerce & Visitors Bureau, which helps coordinate the event, is a retired naval veteran who served during the Persian Gulf War.

While she will be busy with the festival itself, Ordona said she will stand with pride when the Navy's anthem, "Anchors Aweigh," is played.

The anthems for each branch of the armed services will be performed and anyone who has served in the military can stand to be recognized, Ordona said.

The theme of Freedom Fest this year is "United We Stand." The festival is dedicated to the men and women who lost their lives in the Sept. 11 attack, to the American men and women in public safety and the active and retired men and women of the U.S. armed forces.

Freedom Fest started in 1991 as a tribute to the Gulf War troops.

Besides fireworks synchronized to music, a highlight to the festival will be the flag- passing ceremony. A poem will be read during the ceremony that explains the history of the U.S. flag and the meaning behind it, Ordona said. The flag then will be presented to a honored veteran, she said.

"The recipient is a secret. Everyone will have to wait until the ceremony to find out who it is," Ordona said.

Brawley Chamber of Commerce Board member Ted Riley said the flag-passing ceremony is his favorite event.

"It's very moving. One can't help but feel patriotic after seeing the ceremony, Riley said.

He and more than 320 volunteers from local chambers of commerce organizations will set up booths and clean up after the festival.

Freedom Fest is free to the public.

Brister suggests people arrive early because the IVC parking lot fills up quickly. He expects between 35,000 and 40,000 people will view the fireworks.

Food and novelty booths will open at 6 p.m. Entertainment begins at 8 p.m. The flag-passing ceremony will start about 9:15 p.m. and the fireworks begin at 9:30 p.m.

For more information, contact the chambers of commerce in Brawley at 344-3160, Holtville at 356-2923, Imperial at 355-1609 or El Centro at 352-3681, or visit the KXO Radio Web site at kxoradio.com

>> Staff Writer Laura Mitchell can be reached at 337-3452 or lauramitchell99@yahoo.com

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