Rachel Becker and her fellow members of the U.S. Naval Sea Cadet Corps, which trains young people for future careers in the Navy, were among the hundreds of people gathered in downtown Baton Rouge on Monday for the Star-Spangled Celebration.
Becker said she knew from age 13 that she would one day join the U.S. Navy because she “wants to be a part of something bigger.”
“I want to serve the country,” said Becker, 16, as she stood in the shadows of the USS Kidd Veterans Memorial & Museum, watching the Fourth of July celebration around her. “This holiday, it means a lot.”
Despite the heat, the daylong festival honoring Independence Day in downtown Baton Rouge drew hundreds of people to listen to the live music, enjoy food from about a dozen vendors and watch the fireworks show.
Many spectators were confined to the shadows — under trees or next to buildings — as the sun beat down at midday.
Dr. Don and Brenda Perrere created their own shade on the Mississippi River levee under a patriotic red and blue umbrella with “God Bless America” and “Yes to Freedom” written in white paint.
It was the first Star-Spangled Celebration for the couple, who said they decided to give their grill at home a break this year.
Honoring and remembering the reason for the celebration is especially important for the Perreres, who have several veterans in their family.
“We lost a son-in-law in the war,” Don Perrere, a veteran of the Korean War, said. “What does Independence Day mean to me? It means everything.”
As the day wore on and temperatures dipped down to tolerable levels, picnic blankets began to dot the levee and couples gradually made their way to open space by the stage to dance.
The band Na Na Sha had sisters Hollen Brown and Barbara Clark moving to a number of classic songs from the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s.
Brown said the patriotic and family friendly festivities in downtown Baton Rouge reminded her of how people from her childhood hometown in the Midwest celebrated Independence Day.
“It’s a terrific atmosphere, with great music, food and fireworks,” she said. “Coming out here has sort of become our tradition.”
Na Na Sha closed out their show with a rendition of “God Bless the USA” that had the crowd cheering before they turned their focus to the action about to unfold at the USS Kidd, a World War II destroyer on permanent display on the Mississippi River in the downtown area.
Television production crews spent hours Monday rushing around the deck of the destroyer and wading in the water surrounding it, setting up explosives for the mock battle.
The annual staged attack on the USS Kidd by Japanese air forces received a boost in special effects this year from the Discovery Channel, which filmed the air show as part of a new series called “Sons of Guns.”
At 10 minutes to 6 p.m., camera crews were positioned strategically on the ship’s deck, along the Baton Rouge city dock and in a helicopter that hovered above the hundreds of people who lined the levee.
The planes swooped in right after a flyover by three Louisiana National Guard F-15 jets, sending the ship’s warning sirens blaring. Moments later, the first of several powerful blasts rang out from the destroyer’s guns.
The crowd cheered as the planes went down one-by-one, spouting smoke as they sustained their fatal blows.
“It’s so loud, but it’s really fun to watch,” said Kiara Harris, 14. “It’s like watching something out of history.”
The day’s festivities culminated with fireworks on the Mississippi, a 20-minute-long fireworks show that lit up downtown Baton Rouge with dozens of explosions.
“The fireworks, the re-enactment, the music … it’s just a day of celebration,” said Kaitlin Dirdure, 13.