This year's Parade of 1,000 Flags came complete with enthusiastic participants, moving and thought-provoking speeches and (possibly) historically beautiful weather.
The yearly event is put on each year by the Ridgecrest Exchange Club in partnership with China Lake. It is known to attract a large number of participants as well as noteworthy speakers and this year was no exception.
As House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy described it, the “sea of red, white and blue” made its way down China Lake Boulevard and California to Freedom Park, where participants planted the flags. McCarthy was not at this year's parade but has served as Grand Marshal in the past.
The traditional program included a performance of God Bless America led by Kevin Anderson, presentation of the colors by the China Lake Color Guard and a stirring rendition of the national anthem, which included Ridgecrest Charter School music students.
Boy Scout David Chase led the flag salute, and there was an invocation by Ridgecrest Councilman Wallace Martin.
Well-known local auctioneer and emcee James Bell did the honors of running the ceremony. Many luminaries spoke. As Florida prepared for the onslaught of Hurricane Irma Saturday, a few speakers made reference to current tumultuous world events. Speeches for the most part were reflective and optimistic at the same time, emphasizing the importance of the honoring the country's past, present, and future.
Ron Zell, California Remembering Our Fallen Memorial wall director urged everyone to check out the exhibit in the Kerr McGee Center and “pay tribute to the men and women who have given their lives for our freedom.”
“It takes a lot of people to make this happen. Just look around,” Pat Farris said of the event as whole.
“One word describes my experience this morning and that is 'wow,'” said Commanding Officer NAWS China Lake Capt. Paul Dale.
Dale joked that he always wanted a Cadillac El Dorado and “now I can rub it in that I got to ride in one a couple of blocks.”
Dale said that has a first-time attendee he was “blown away by the breadth of the adults and children walking the parade. No amount of words is going to outdo what we just had an opportunity to participate in.
“What a tremendous outpouring of support for this unforgettable visual demonstration for pride in the United States of America.”
Vice Mayor Eddie Thomas also spoke, sharing a larger vision of what the flag symbolizes.
Field Representative Keenan Hoschchild read a statement from McCarthy, in which McCarthy again called Ridgecrest one of the most patriotic cities in the nation.
State Senator Jean Fuller thanked the parents who brought their children to the event. “Ridgecrest is amazing. Ridgecrest is the center of a community that understands what is necessary for America and our state communities to be strong,” Fuller said. “Ridgecrest understands and uses ceremonies like these to teach our youth what they must do to be courageous and stand in their fathers' and mothers' footsteps. Ridgecrest is not only one of the smartest communities in the state, but you have the biggest heart.”
After Bell joked that Vince Fong is in Ridgecrest so often “I used to think he lived here,” California Assemblyman Fong took the podium.
“Ridgecrest has essentially adopted me. I feel like I have a lot of parents and grandparents in the audience because they tell me what I need to do,” Fong joked. “This event epitomizes why Ridgecrest is so special. There is no question in my mind that Ridgecrest is one of the most patriotic communities in the nation.
“It's no question that we should thank the men and women of China Lake for everything that they do. There are things that they work on that they can't talk about. But it's to protect the warfighter and protect the liberties that we enjoy.
“There are a lot of children out here. It is our mission to remind them that freedom is not free and that men and women die for what that flag stands for.”
Fong shared a memory of visiting New York City the weekend before 9/11. “We were supposed to go the [World] Trade Center, but we decided to leave and come back at a later time. Unfortunately we never got that chance . . . I had a lot of friends that had family members that they couldn't reach that day. Those are memories that are seared in my soul for the rest of my life.”
Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood also spoke up, interjecting a somewhat political note. “The message that I have is for the president of the United States. If you want to make America great again, come to the greatest American city and see what it takes,” he said.
After an introduction by Supervising Deputy District Attorney Cynthia Zimmer, keynote speaker Josh Dhanens took the podium. A veteran and Kern County veteran's advocate, Dhanens urged everyone to reflect deeply on their identity as Americans.
“Today was nice. I got to see Ridgecrest for Ridgecrest, not just the few vets I help,” Dhanens said.
Dhanens said it is important to remember the nearly 3,000 people who died on Sept. 11 as well as the nearly 7,000 servicemen and women who have died since then.
“To ensure that the memory of those nearly 10,000 Americans is not lost, we take time today to remember them. We don't want them to have died in vain. “Merely remembering them is not enough. We must also reflect,” he said. “What is our nation and where do we want our nation to go?
“Coming from someone who quite literally shed his blood, sweat and tears for this nation, these may seem like odd questions. I think its important to ask these type of questions precisely because I sacrificed for this nation. It's important to remind ourselves where we've been, where we are, and where we are headed.”
Dhanens said courage, resourcefulness and a willingness to sacrifice to others are national traits.
“We seem to be able to put aside our differences and rally to the aid of complete strangers after natural disasters, in fact we are quite good at it. These traits have been and continue to be the cornerstone of our nation. We should display them at every opportunity, not just in response to some disaster.
“What I celebrate this Patriot Day is our nation's ability to come together and help one another.”
The event concluded with bag pipers' playing Amazing Grace, an invocation by NAWS Chaplain Lt. Cmdr. Brian Kimble and “Taps” by Brian Cosner.
(See Jessica Weston's column for more on this year's parade and program, Page A3.)