Bel Air Commemorates Fourth of July with thousands of parade-goers

The Town of Bel Air wrapped up an extended weekend of Fourth of July celebrations with its festivities of its own.

No serious issues were reported at any of the events in Edgewood (please see page A9), Kingsville (please see Page A4), Havre de Grace and Bel Air, though both sets of fireworks — in Havre de Grace Sunday and Bel Air Monday — ran into a few problems.

In Havre de Grace, there was confusion as to whether the fireworks were being canceled (please see story, Page A5), while in Bel Air, the light display went off earlier than many people anticipated.

Bel Air advertises its fireworks will be set off an "approximately" 9:30 p.m., but Monday night they were lighting the sky by 9:20, much to the dismay of many people who were still trying to find a place to watch them.

Calls to Don Stewart of the Bel Air committee were not returned.

But before the fireworks, thousands gathered along Main Street Monday evening, waving flags and celebrating the Fourth of July with the annual Bel Air parade.

The 1.1-mile parade finished a weekend of events with several marching bands and floats, representing the theme of "Three Cheers for the Red, White and Blue."

The Ravens Fanman Bus received many cheers. The crowd wasn't nearly as friendly toward Gov. Martin O'Malley, booing him and his family as they traveled the parade route, much as the spectators did two years earlier, the last time the Democratic governor participated in the Fourth of July parade in Bel Air, the county seat of a very Republican county.

The Celebrating Harford's Veterans float was given a much warmer and more enthusiastic welcome. All around stood and most removed their hats to honor America's military personnel, past and present.

Aaron Sahlin was one of those soldiers himself, serving in the Army for nearly two years before blowing his knee out six months before he was scheduled to deploy to Iraq. Sahlin came with his 1-year-old daughter, Breana Sahlin, and her mother, Holly Hood, who also brought her son, 7-year-old Dominic Hood.

This year was the second for Sahlin and first for their daughter, Breana.

"It's a huge eye-opener," Holly Hood said. "You have to really think about what our freedom really means."

"In Iraq, they can't do this," Sahlin said, later adding that with a family of veterans, it was "easy" for him to choose the military.

For Hood, it wasn't always easy when Sahlin was serving, but she was already used to it, having had both her father and grandfather serve in the military.

"You just pray that they're going to come back safe," she said. "No matter what."

The various marching bands were also crowd pleasers, including local high school bands from Bel Air, John Carroll and Patterson Mill, and several independent bands.

The bands were the favorite of Jacqueline and Bo Lowery, who had been coming for four years with their sons, Brendon, 13, and Cameron, 9. Brendon said his favorite, too, was the marching bands and explained Fourth of July for him is about "having fun" and enjoying the fireworks and parade.

His father, Bo, in addition to coming for the "joyful surroundings," said he liked to "give tribute to the veterans, all who fought so we can have our independence."

The TwirlTasTix were also a hit, tossing flaming batons, much to the enjoyment of attending children, as well as the dance troupes, such as The Rage Box Contemporary Dance Center.

Abby Bannon, 8, came with her friend, Megan Weaver, 8, and her mother, Amy Weaver, to this year's parade and said she liked the dancers best. Megan, however, said she liked "seeing the stuff," but especially the baton twirlers.

"Some of them I know," she added.

Lisa Haines, who came with her husband, Brandon, and their 17-month-old daughter, Gabriella, agreed.

"I'd have to say that's pretty cool," she said, as the TwirlTasTix team danced by.

Though Haines and her husband had been coming since they were children, this was their first year with Gabriella. Gabriella wasn't quite old enough to say what her favorite part was, but Brandon Haines said, "she seems to be liking the music when it goes by."

In addition to the not-so-friendly welcome for the governor, many local politicians also came out for the parade, including Bel Air Town Commissioners Terry Hanley, Robert Reier and Robert Preston, as well as County Councilmen Chad Shrodes and James McMahan, and Del. Susan McComas, among many others.

Despite the many entertaining acts, the true meaning behind the Fourth of July shone in a crowd of parade-goers decked out in red, white and blue and one little boy even sporting a patriotic Mohawk.

Ralph and Rhonda Norman said they had been coming for 15 years, originally in support of their son, who was a Cub Scout at the time.

"I just think it's about being American," Ralph Norman said, "Remembering about the people in the military. It's about patriotism."

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