Patriotic celebration brings thousands to Bethany Beach

People lined the streets of downtown Bethany Beach on Monday, eager to take in the sights and sounds of the 21st Bethany Beach Fourth of July Parade.

People, pets and paraphernalia also lined up behind a group of veterans with flags held high to kick off the patriotic celebration of “the Five Freedoms” organized by the town’s parade committee and its chairman, Phil Rossi.

From fancy floats and marching units to walkers decked out in red, white and blue, and bicycles and wagons strewn with the stars and stripes, it was another successful edition of the town’s display of “small-town Americana” for the July 4 holiday.

Dignitaries ranging from Sen. Tom Carper, state Rep. Gerald Hocker and state Sen. George Howard Bunting to local mayors Jack Walsh (Bethany Beach), Gary Meredith (Ocean View), Peter Frederick (Fenwick Island) and Gary Jayne (South Bethany) perched atop convertibles to wave to the assembled masses.

Leading off the political procession and beaming smiles was former Bethany Beach Mayor Joe McHugh — the parade’s grand marshal.

Parade enthusiasts assembled their floats, marching groups and bands behind the dignitaries, putting a wide variety of faces to the patriotic holiday and its theme.

A pickup truck masqueraded as a giant blue crab that celebrated its own five freedoms — among them: not to be cooked up for a crab feast.

Marchers demonstrated their rights to assemble, speak and petition with signs held high demanding longer summer vacations and sundry beach-related options.

The freedom to get wet was available to more than those who chose to stay on the beach, with numerous bands of water-gun bandits offering a free soaking to any and all who looked ready for a little relief from the heat.

Pets displayed their freedom to dress in patriotic style, garbed in patriotic ribbons and bows.

Steel drums, bagpipes, banjos and barbershop singing mixed with the sounds of revving mini-Corvette engines and the sirens of the Bethany Beach Volunteer Fire Company.

Each and all sought not only to participate in the fun of the parade but also to exemplify the five freedoms (speech, press, religion, assembly and petition) that were the theme of this year’s parade. Those determined to have excelled in that goal would receive awards later in the day.

When all was said and done, four groups came away with the top prizes in the parade’s four awards categories: DiFebo’s restaurant, the Fenwick Island Lions Club, and the Garrison and Padinske families.

The winners were chosen by members of the parade judging committee: Jerry Morris, Dave Evans, Irma Kreger, Patricia Kruger, Judi Morris and Nella Neary.

But the festivities didn’t end with the awards.

As afternoon yielded into twilight, the Philadelphia German Brass Band was set to take the stage to entertain crowds at the boardwalk and bandstand. Parking was already in short supply as their 7:30 start time neared, with high anticipation for the evening’s planned fireworks display.

Rather than dwindling, the masses of beachgoers continued to grow as darkness descended, with a few damp towels and chairs the end result of bad guesses as to where the evening high tide would reach on the town’s dwindling beach.

So great had been the erosion of spring tides and storms that the fireworks themselves were nearly canceled. The planned launch site didn’t meet the state’s minimum requirement of 200 feet between it and structures.

But the chance of a last-minute meeting between Walsh and Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) Secretary John Hughes turned to the town’s favor, as Hughes arranged for a barge to be brought to Bethany Beach and used as the launch site for the July 4 fireworks.

Thus, some hasty shifting of early encampments in the hour before dusk still brought some prime (and drier) viewing spots for fireworks enthusiasts, as the show did, indeed, go on.

Mother Nature wasn’t quite as accommodating as the minds behind Wilmington Tug, though, laying down a thin, low bank of clouds around the area right as darkness arrived. A picture-perfect afternoon turned into a hazy evening. But all was not lost.

While upper-level pyrotechnics were often lost in the clouds, creating a bank of color instead of a sprinkling of sparks, the display’s lower-lying bursts showed clear up and down the town’s beach, delighting viewers young and old.

The finale was greeted with oohs and aahs, and capped the evening with a hearty round of applause for a show that came off despite a few hitches and with ample displays of the summertime patriotic splendor that draws so many to shores of Bethany Beach each July 4.