From a five-day bike ride to a full day of events, Lewisburg offers a time for citizens to celebrate Independence Day and show their patriotic pride.
The Gala 4th of July Celebration began Tuesday with a Freedom Bike Ride that started in Washington, D.C., and will end Saturday at the 25th Annual Union County Veterans’ 4th of July Parade. The parade is followed by daylong activities that include bands, train rides, a Jeep Jamboree, helicopter rides and, of course, fireworks.
New and exciting this year are the helicopter rides, said Kevin Bittenbender, president of the Union County Veteran’s 4th of July Parade Committee. For the 25th anniversary of the parade, the Liberty War Bird Huey 823 will perform the flyover of the parade route at 10 a.m.
During the Vietnam War, Huey helicopters transported thousands of soldiers into battle and evacuated the wounded to medical facilities. The non-profit Liberty War Bird Association, will offer rides from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. for the cost of membership in the LWBA. For $80, members receive a membership card, a Huey pin, a quarterly newsletter and the flight.
“They will be offering rides at a landing zone (which military personnel call an LZ) at B.Z. Motors. So an LZ at B.Z.,” Bittenbender said.
“It will be a very up-close and personal ride over the treetops of Lewisburg and Bucknell University. A lot of our Vietnam veterans are getting on in years and may not have an opportunity to do this again. If anything, we want it to be a chance for them to share that experience with their kids and family.”
The five-day Freedom Bike Ride includes stints of bicycling through Arlington Cemetery, Gettysburg battlefields, “Amish country” near Loganton and areas between Lewisburg and Danville. It ends with a leg from Mifflinburg to Lewisburg, where it joins in the parade.
Doreen Crawford moved to Lewisburg in 2010 and joined the Freedom Ride in 2012, which was the first time she saw the parade.
“The turnout for it, how much representation there is of our servicemen … it brought me to tears the first year I saw it,” she said. “Seeing people rise to their feet to applaud the soldiers, especially from the Vietnam War, I think it’s wonderful to see.”
More than 50 Gold Star families, people who have lost a loved one in military service, will join in the celebration, Bittenbender said.
“It would be wonderful to have our community welcome them and appreciate them,” he said, “because it was their loved ones who paid the ultimate sacrifice.”
After the parade, a veteran’s recognition ceremony will be held at the President’s Grove of Bucknell University at Loomis Street and University Avenue. A concert following the ceremony features the Fralinger String Band, American Originals Fife & Drum Corps and the Hanover Lancers Drum & Bugle Corps.
The Union County Industrial Railroad (a North Shore Railroad Company affiliate) will once again donate train rides along the Susquehanna River at 1 and 3 p.m. Tickets at $10 each must be bought ahead of time at www.eventbrite.com. If any tickets remain, they will be made available at Hufnagle Park during the Celebration.
The 2nd Annual Jeep Jamboree sponsored by B.Z. Motors with radio broadcasting by Hanna 92.3 welcomes all Jeeps to show off their patriotic spirit and vie for the prize of the favorite decorated Jeep. Following the Jamboree will be the Weis Block Party, with food trucks, the National Guard rock wall, and the Becky Blue Band leading up to the fireworks.
Noting the Huey helicopter, train rides and Jeep Jamboree, Bittenbender joked, “We’ve got planes, trains and automobiles.”
Williamsport’s Uptown Music Collective will put on a patriotic show at 7 p.m. at Wolfe Field, gearing up for the fireworks extravaganza at 9:30 p.m.
“To celebrate our 25th anniversary of this parade, we’re going to have a 25-minute fireworks show, sponsored by Weis (Markets),” Bittenbender said.
He emphasized the support of volunteers and businesses that makes the celebrations possible. Campus Cycle and Fly Fishing has donated a bike to the Freedom Bike Ride every year for the past nine years. This year they donated a mountain bike to Kylie Owen, daughter of SSG Kirk Owen, who was killed in 2011 in Afghanistan. Kylie Owen is the enrollment coordinator for Children of Fallen Patriots.(www.fallenpatriots.org).
Pardoe’s Perky Peanuts sponsored the Freedom Bike Ride. Aubrey Alexander supplied a van to shuttle Freedom Bike Riders from place to place. The North Shore Railroad donated crews, fuel and equipment for train rides. B.Z. Motors sponsored the Jeep Jamboree.
“It’s just the local community and businesses coming together,” Bittenbender said.
“We have to keep it alive,” Crawford said. “The respect for our veterans, the patriotism.”
The daylong celebrations give people that opportunity to feel and express pride in their country, Bittenbender said.
“We can put all of our political differences aside and be one community,” he said. “And celebrate our independence.”