CECIL COUNTY — By the light of fireworks bursting in the sky above the Northeast River, community members will gather to remember the sacrifices of the nation’s veterans during the annual Salute to Cecil County Veterans ceremony and fireworks show Wednesday, July 3.
Marking the 23rd consecutive year of the event — and the 28th year in total since it began in 1991 with the show not going on for only one year in 1996 — the ceremony will pay tribute to veterans on the day before Independence Day, according to Brian DeMaris, president of the Salute to Cecil County Veterans, the nonprofit that runs the event by the same name.
“We put on a once-a-year event to honor our veterans for their military service,” DeMaris said. “We do it for a couple reasons: first to honor them, and second to cause positive energy in our community. It’s a celebration that’s tied right next door to one of the biggest events in our country, Independence Day, the very next day. It’s sort of a kickoff to a celebration of our nation’s independence as fueled by the veterans that helped create the country.”
Shuttle buses will be available to pick up attendees and bring them to North East Community Park from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. The four pickup locations will be at Walmart, Food Lion, North East Middle School and North East Town Hall. The buses will then return to those locations starting at 9:45 p.m. after the fireworks.
The park gates will open at 6 p.m. where people can enjoy military displays, live music, food, raffles, face painting, sand art, inflatables and other family-friendly activities.
Meanwhile, there will be a private dinner for veterans and local officials by invitation only at the North East VFW Post 6027 at 6:30 p.m. The dinner is being paid for and officially hosted by the Military Order of the Purple Heart Chapter 703, according to Gene Daley, commander of the North East VFW.
Around 7 p.m., organizers will hold rubber ducky races in the park. By 7:30 p.m., the dinner attendees will join the rest of the community for the Salute Ceremony at 8 p.m. at the Lighthouse Pavilion in the middle of the park.
The ceremony, conducted by veterans and active military members with the help of Boy Scout members, will feature the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance, raising of the American flag, singing of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” and various speakers, including Cecil County Executive Alan McCarthy, North East Mayor Robert McKnight, and a representative from Aberdeen Proving Ground.
Although APG Commander Gen. Randy S. Taylor has spoken at the event in the past, Taylor is being reassigned to serve as the chief of staff of U.S. Strategic Command at the Offutt Air Force Base in Omaha, Neb., and will be leaving APG at the end of June. However, DeMaris said the event’s organizers have been coordinating with APG to have one of the base’s generals in attendance.
The ceremony will also recognize the 75th anniversary of D-Day, which occurred on June 6, in remembrance of the Allies who landed on the beaches of Normandy on June 6, 1944, in Operation Overlord during World War II, according to Daley.
The Allied forces suffered more than 226,386 casualties — 72,911 who were killed or missing and 153,475 who were wounded — during the D-Day attack, according to White House archives.
Daley served in the U.S. Army from 1986 to 1995, during which time he was a paratrooper and a jump master with the 82nd Airborne Division.
After serving as the junior vice commander, Daley was nominated and elected to the top spot. Now, he’s looking for more ways to connect veterans with their community and vice versa, starting with the Salute to Cecil County Veterans.
Daley, who is also a former president of the nonprofit, said he has been impressed with the organization’s mission of putting on an event that honors the veterans of Cecil County in conjunction with Independence Day.
“It’s not just a fireworks show. It’s more than that,” Daley said. “We recognize the veterans that throughout the history of our nation have been able to provide us the freedom and the ability to have fireworks shows and to honor those veterans and to make a special event out of that.”
According to DeMaris, the fireworks show will begin around 9:20 p.m. on the Northeast River. This year’s event will use the nonprofit’s new barge after last year a storm hit shortly before the salute ceremony was set to begin.
“We’re excited to finally be able to use it because last year it got rain-soaked and we had to throw the fireworks away,” DeMaris said.
Historically, the nonprofit has rented a barge for each show, but eventually it became difficult to find one. Instead, the organization started saving up money to build their own barge, which cost $55,000, according to DeMaris.
Due to the storm, DeMaris said last year’s event only drew less than 1,000 people.
But the year before that, when the show experience no weather issues, DeMaris estimates there were about 12,000 people split among the Charlestown and North East sides of the river, the North East Isles condominiums, Anchor Marina, the Nauti Goose restaurant, boaters and the park itself. DeMaris hopes this year’s show will attract similar crowds.
While free to the public, the annual event relies on donations from the public — as well as from businesses and veterans organizations — to stay running each year.
DeMaris said the nonprofit is looking to fundraise about $51,000 to pay for this year’s $49,000 price tag and lay the groundwork for next year’s event. Organizers will be accepting cash as well as payments via credit cards and cash apps such as Venmo and Square.
“As people arrive they can swipe their credit card and hand in a dollar or $5 or $20 or whatever they want to give. Anything is appreciated,” DeMaris said.
In addition to the Salute to Cecil County Veterans, other groups will be hosting their own fireworks shows and events the week of Independence Day.
Elkton will hold its “Fireworks Extravaganza” on Thursday, July 4, in Meadow Park.
Gates will open to the public at 5 p.m., and the event will include a family-friendly DJ and a variety of local food vendors. The fireworks show will start at dusk, according to town officials.
The Chateau Bu-De Winery, located at 237 Bohemia Manor Farm Lane in Chesapeake City, will hold a fireworks show and festivities from 2 to 9 p.m. on July 4 with a rain date of Saturday, July 6. The event comes with a $10 entrance fee per car, according to Abigail Miller, vice president of operations for the winery.
“Guests are encouraged to bring their own blankets and chairs,” Miller said.
Live music from duo Debra & Patrick will begin at 4 p.m. and continue until the fireworks show begins at dusk.
No outside food or drinks are permitted, but wine and food will be available for purchase in the tasting room. The menu will include wine, soda, water, and barbecue-style foods such as pulled chicken, hotdogs and nachos, according to Miller.
Miller said this is a family-friendly event for two-legged and four-legged firework-lovers.
“Kids and dogs are welcome. Dogs just have to be on a leash and cleaned up after,” she said.
With Chateau Bu-De putting on their own event for a couple years now, Miller said the winery just wanted to have a place where people could enjoy July 4 festivities together.
“Our owners just love fireworks and want to create a great atmosphere for families and the community to gather,” she said.
Finally, the Chesapeake City Chamber of Commerce will hold a fireworks show on Friday, July 5, with a rain date of Saturday, July 6.
The event will begin at 5 p.m. with live music and vendors along Bohemia Avenue in front of the town hall, as well as around Pell Gardens, according to Tonya Lockwood, the town’s billing clerk.
Lockwood said the fireworks will begin at 9 p.m. over the C&D Canal.
“It will be out on the levees beyond the Corps of Engineers, where they shoot them off,” she said.
Folks will be able to view the fireworks along the water, but Lockwood said the best place to watch them will be at Pell Gardens.
There will be parking available on the levees that will be directed by the Boy Scouts, according to Lockwood.