Tens of thousands gather to celebrate at Antietam battlefield

July 03, 2005|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS


Thousands of people covered the lawn behind the visitors center at Antietam National Battlefield for Saturday's 20th annual Salute to Independence celebration, awaiting the evening's orchestral presentation and fireworks display.

The military was prominent, complete with a C-130 airplane flyover from the West Virginia Air National Guard 167th Airlift Wing in Martinsburg, W.Va., six howitzers from the Maryland Army National Guard 2nd Battalion 110th Field Artillery in Greenbelt, Md., and about 30 uniformed guardsmen to operate the howitzers.

In the middle of the field watching it all was Mary Fritz and her husband, Richard Fritz. The Fritzes said their son is in the U.S. Air Force stationed at a base in Idaho.


Mary Fritz, 60, said Saturday was her chance to show her support. She listed the pieces of clothing she was wearing that represented her patriotism.

"Patriotic jumper. Patriotic T-shirt. The hair band. The purse. Necklace. Pins," Fritz said. She also had white socks with red and blue stars on them and a red, white and blue bracelet.

"And then I have napkins (with U.S. flags on them) that I put on my cooler." Then, she pointed at her husband. "I got him to put on his patriotic shirt."

"Then, we have patriotic chairs which our son got us."

She said it's good for the country to have an annual reminder of military service on Independence Day. She had three brothers who served in the Navy, and an uncle who went missing in action during World War II.

"I think so. Especially after 9/11. I think the country became a lot more aware of the colors," the bedecked Fritz said. "I think people should always be aware."

Antietam National Battlefield Park Superintendent John Howard said he estimated there were at least 35,000 people in the crowd by 7:30 p.m., when the Maryland Symphony Orchestra began its musical tribute.

The crowd was larger this year than last, which partially could be attributed to the weather, Howard said.

"I think it's a combination between the weather and it's the 20th anniversary," Howard said.

According to Hagerstown weather observer Greg Keefer's Web site,, the temperature in Hagerstown reached 86 degrees about 2 p.m., and by 9 p.m. had dropped to about 75 degrees. The skies had few clouds, the humidity was low and there was a steady breeze all day.

Before the concert, MSO Musical Director Elizabeth Schulze said it would be her seventh time leading the orchestra at the battlefield, and she still was excited.

"I'm always breathless about these things," Schulze said. "I love being able to interact with the audience. ... It just seems to be a wonderful tradition that's taken hold."

The orchestra was taking a little bit of a risk this year, Schulze said, by working with music written less than five years ago. Robert Lichtenberger, a Maryland native, wrote the recent versions of "Yankee Doodle Dandy" the orchestra was to perform Saturday.

Orchestra members also said it was an honor to play before the crowd.

"It's hot, but it's a cool thing with this many people here," said Sheryl Navarrete, a violinist.

Alan Saucedo, a cellist, said it was his first time playing at this event.

"It's very nice they do this kind of thing. We don't have too many of these in Mexico," Saucedo said of his home country. "It is difficult to keep everything together - the instrument, keeping your instrument in tune. ... But it's a nice experience to play outside."

Sgt. Greg Blackmon, who was with the artillery unit out of Greenbelt, said the members of his unit get to assist in playing Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture" twice a year, once at Antietam and once at Fort Meade near Baltimore.

The 105 mm howitzers have a nine-mile maximum target distance, and to fire them can be very technical, Blackmon said. Musical uses are easier, but he said he didn't think anyone in his unit had musical training, however.

"You know what, I don't," Blackmon said. "I don't think we have any musicians in the battery that I know of."

But with the military personnel as a backdrop and the crowds showing their patriotism, Mary Fritz said she would continue to be supportive, and continue to keep her son in her thoughts.

"Anything can happen," Fritz said. "Every time you hear a report, you wonder. ... To be a mother, you'll do anything."

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