The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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July 4, 2012

Area residents honor Independence Day with families, fireworks

For Melissa Vaughn, who served in Iraq with the Missouri Army National Guard’s 203rd Engineer Battalion in 2004-2005, the Fourth of July is about more than the rockets’ red glare.

“It’s much nicer being here at home to celebrate,” Vaughn said. She attended Joplin’s celebration Wednesday at Landreth Park with her daughter, Isabelle, who had never been to a large fireworks display.

“Hopefully all the soldiers will be able to come home soon, and they can celebrate with their families, too,” Vaughn said.

U.S. soldiers in Iraq had barbecue but no fireworks to mark the holiday, she said.

“They were our family at the time,” Vaughn said. “I’m just happy to be here.”

High temperatures did not stop families and friends from gathering for celebrations in Joplin, Pittsburg, Kan., and elsewhere.

The Joplin Host Lions Club has been a vendor at the community’s celebration since at least 1976, said Chris Howard, immediate past president. He remembers going as a child when the celebration was held at McClelland Park.

Howard said the event is one of the main fundraisers for the group, which uses proceeds to help buy eyeglasses for children and adults. Extra money also goes to the Boys & Girls Club and to Children’s Haven, he said.

“When somebody buys a hamburger or cheeseburger here, they’re helping others,” Howard said. “Once it gets going, we don’t really get a chance to see the fireworks or anything. We hear them, and we hear the bands, and there are times we wish we could be out there down in a lawn chair, but it’s really about donating our time. We’re all volunteers, and we’re always looking for volunteers.”

The Missouri National Guard presented the colors and kicked off events with a welcome ceremony at Landreth Park, followed by performances by Duke Mason, Felonious Monk and Big Smitty.

“To me, the Fourth of July means being free in America, celebrating our rights and being independent,” said Roger Hamilton, of Seneca, who came to Joplin to listen to a friend play in a band that performed Wednesday night.

Justin Strait, of Galena, Kan., said it was his first time attending Joplin’s celebration. He said his favorite part of Independence Day is the fireworks. He said the holiday nowadays doesn’t mean what it used to for people.

“We don’t stand up for what we used to,” Strait said. “We have let go of our foundation. We forget where we came from, where we started and what it took for us to get here: honor.”

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