Citizens to the rescue after feds cut Bristol parade perks
If the Bristol Fourth of July committee had to depend on the federal government, there would be no fly-over to mark the start of America's oldest, continuous Fourth of July parade, no cookout for military personnel visiting Bristol, and fewer soldiers in town for the most patriotic time of the year. But thanks to private citizens, those traditions will continue. One of the oldest, however, will not.
Because of federal funding cutbacks, there will be no visiting Navy ship this year, and the military will not be sending an aircraft to mark the start of the parade with a fly-over. Nevertheless, some members of the Fourth of July Committee decided not to let sequestration rain on Bristol's Fourth of July traditions.
The fly-over has become a time-honored tradition that committee members Darlene Olson and Eric Sponseller decided was too important to go without. Each member decided to pay for a fly-over with their own money. Since commissioned military aircraft are not for hire, the committee found another option. They secured a privately-owned World War II training aircraft.
Another committee member, DJ Cordeiro, is familiar with the aircraft and talked to the plane's owner about having it appear at Bristol's Fourth of July parade. When Ms. Olson offered to donate the $600 cost for one plane, Mr. Sponseller offered the same amount to add a second.
At 10:30 a.m. on July 4, weather permitting, the warbird single-engine aircraft will fly a route that passes over Hope and High streets just as the parade begins.
While sequestration creates deficiencies, it also created an opportunity.
"We also received a call from Major Joshua Wild, the executive officer and pilot for the Air Force Thunderbirds," Mr. Devault said.
Due to sequestration, the Thunderbirds demonstration squadron will also be grounded for the Fourth of July. Parade chairman Ray Lavey extended an option to Major Wild, inviting him to march in the parade and lead a military division. He quickly accepted the offer, and asked to be kept "in the loop" for other Fourth of July activities.
"We'll have the Thunderbirds walking on the ground, rather than flying in the air," Mr. Devault said.
As with any party where 100,000 guest are expected to arrive, planning the Fourth of July celebration in Bristol often takes a series of adjustments. Without the visiting ship in Bristol, other activities, such as the traditional exchange of gifts between the ship's captain and the town administrator during the Patriotic Exercises will not take place. The committee extended an invitation to military personnel stationed at the Naval War College in Newport. And although the Navy was not able to provide transportation for personnel and color guards to march in the parade, the committee received funding from the Bristol County Elks and an anonymous donor to cover transportation costs.
And although the hundreds of people who look forward to touring the Navy's visiting ship may be disappointed, they can still meet the service men and women, who will still enjoy the annual cookout and softball games held at the Columban Fathers on July 1.
"The impact (of sequestration) is significant to the community," Mr. Devault said. "The committee reacted to the loss" and the impact to the celebration will be minimized.