Voices from the Salute to Independence

July 02, 2011

Bill and Delia Pailen, New Market, Md.

In search for a great place to check out fireworks, Bill and Delia Pailen visited Antietam National Battlefield for the first time Saturday.

"I've heard the fireworks display here is a good one," Bill Pailen said.

The couple have lived in the area for 12 years and always are searching for new places to check out fireworks.

"We're explosion fans," Bill Pailen said.

In anticipation of the long day ahead, the Pailens were resting in the shade underneath a tree with their comfortable lawn chairs and a couple of books to read.

Andrew Glennan, Sarah Palterson, Prescott McWilliams, Franklin & Marshall College

Unlike the rest of the Antietam faithful who were camped out, Andrew Glennan, 20, Sarah Palterson, 20, and Prescott McWilliams, 22, were riding bicycles on the battlefield trail.

"This is definitely not the weekend to drive around in a car," McWilliams said.

The Franklin & Marshall College students were checking out the scenery on their trip, which Glennan estimated would take about two to three hours to complete before they headed back to enjoy the concert.

Palterson, who hails from Seattle, never attended the Salute to Independence, but she anticipated the concert and fireworks would be fun.

Both McWilliams and Glennan, who are Baltimore natives have been to the event before.

"The last time I was here was seven years ago, but I remember it was fun," Glennan said.

Nancy and Stephen Bender, Mercersburg, Pa.

This year's Salute to Independence celebration was a hot one, but Nancy and Stephen Bender were well-prepared.

This is the 20th summer the two have come to the event, and it's the second year for their dog, Rosie.

"It's nice. Hot, but nice," Nancy said. "It was about this hot last year. It's like you're going on a picnic."

It's just the two of them under their tent this year, but they said they often come with more family. Along with a tent, they pack plenty of food and water, both for themselves and Rosie.

Over the years, they've been coming to the celebration, the two are used to the heat, but they're ready for anything.

"One year, there was a storm at night and we all had to scatter," Nancy said.

Darryl Benner, Sharpsburg Volunteer Fire Co.

Although Darryl Benner, fundraising chairman for the Sharpsburg Volunteer Fire Company, has only seen the MSO concert once during the number of years he's attended, the Salute to Independence event still is an important one.

Benner and about 20 others from the fire company prepare burgers, hot dogs and more every summer for thousands of hungry people.

The celebration is the single largest fundraiser for the fire company, Benner said, raising anything between $7,000 and $10,000 per year from sales.

"It's great for us. The money from fundraising helps with a lot of operating costs. We raise money so we can still function and provide fire protection," he said.

Snow cones are the team's best seller. Benner said they sell more than 3,000 each year.

"It can get pretty big," he said.

Robert Jenkins, MSO percussionist

This year, the Maryland Symphony Orchestra's Salute to Independence had a little bit of everything, from the annual "1812 Overture" by Ilyich Tchaikovsky to Patsy Cline and Martina McBride songs.

"It's different every year. It's a really nice mix this year," MSO percussionist Robert Jenkins said.

He and the other MSO musicians had plenty of work to do before they were ready to perform for a crowd of thousands.

"We get the music, learn our parts, come and rehearse the day-of early in the morning, and there's a sound check," he said.

Jenkins, of Jessup, Md., performed at the event last year, and is happy to be back.

"It was great. There were a lot of people, a great atmosphere. It's a great place to play and celebrate our independence," he said. "This is one of my favorites because they have the artillery and the fireworks display."

Judy Ditto, Hagerstown

Judy Ditto sells everything that glitters and blinks at the MSO store, but the Antietam celebration isn't just about making a profit. She and her family have been coming almost every year since her daughter, Meghan Kennedy, was a baby.

"We look forward to it. It's a huge family thing. It's just so much fun to be out here with the scenery. There's nothing like it," she said.

This is the first year Judy's son couldn't attend the event, but it was still a family celebration. Meghan and Judy's sister, Janice Hughes, helped behind the counter, selling everything from glow-in-the-dark swords and pinwheels to hats and T-shirts.

"Hopefully, we'll sell everything before the evening's through," Judy said.

Sgt. Zachary Garrison, Baltimore

Sgt. Zachary Garrison only recently flew home from Iraq. The Salute to Independence celebration was the perfect opportunity for him to get reacquainted with his passion for artillery and life in America: He helped prepare and shoot off the howitzers during the Maryland Symphony Orchestra performance.

"This is a good way to get back into things," he said. "Anything with fire mechanics, I love it."

Garrison and the rest of the soldiers came in and started setting up at 10 a.m. He said the orchestra conductor runs a rehearsal with the participating soldiers, telling them when to fire with the music.

Garrison has participated in other Fourth of July celebrations at Fort McHenry before. This is his first time at Antietam National Battlefield, but he's heard great things about the fireworks display.

"I'm looking forward to this one," he said.

William Gay and Percey King, Antietam maintenance workers

With people coming to set up tarps and tents as early at 5:30 a.m., the Salute to Independence is an all-day affair.

William Gay, maintenance worker and arborist, and Percey King, seasonal maintenance worker, know how hectic the event can be.

Gay has been working the event seven years now, King more than 10.

"We got here first thing in the morning," Gay said.

Along with helping set up fireworks, flags and tents early in the day, the two also help with parking.

"Last year, we had an awful time with parking. It looks like it might be the same this year," King said.

The two also give directions and answer questions. Gay said he's often surprised by what people need help with.

"They ask about everything," he said.

— Maegan Clearwood and Aaron Saunders

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