BY DEBBIE PAGE
Over 600 hundred flags waved in the breeze, setting the patriotic tone for the 16th annual July 3rd Celebration at Lowe’s YMCA on Saturday afternoon. Attendees enjoyed inflatables, military vehicles, food trucks, music, and the Hoptown beer garden on the BB&T grounds.
For the first time, this event was combined with the Mooresville-Lake Norman Exchange Club’s 6th Annual Field of Flags event, presented by BestCo, with the ceremony honoring veterans and first responders kicking off the main events.
After Cotton Ketchie’s invocation, concert headliner Rockie Lynne harmonized the National Anthem along with two bandmates, followed by a welcome from Mayor Miles Atkins.
“How does it feel to live in the most patriotic town in America?” asked Atkins, drawing a large cheer from the crowd.
The mayor praised the close relationship between the town and the Exchange Club, Richard’s Coffee Shop, and the Welcome Home Veterans Living Home Military Museum.
Exchange Club President Beth Packard then welcomed the crowd to the evening of activities “to honor and celebrate our country” and “to commemorate the service men and women and the first responders who have served and sacrificed to keep us safe and provide freedom for our country.”
Packard stressed the club members’ deep patriotism and the unique, individual stories that each of the flags represents.
She also pointed out the white and blue flags on the far end of the field, each bearing the name of one of the 18 North Carolina children who died at the hands of their caregivers in 2019.
The prevention of child abuse is the Exchange Club’s national project, and the club works closely with Pharos Parenting in Statesville “to help end the cycle of child abuse and neglect,” added Packard.
Lowe’s YMCA Executive Director Ashley Morgan welcomed the crowd, reminding them the the YMCA was there “to provide a place for the community to come together.”
Though the event is a lot of work, Morgan loves it “because this is a time when Mooresville gets to really come together, sit together, celebrate together, fellowship together and just look back on why we are able to be out here,” pointing to the flags on the field.
“The reason we are able to sit here is because of those people there.”
Welcome Home Veterans Executive Director John Hedley talked about the Declaration of Independence and its emphasis on all men being created equal and the inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
“This was the first time in history that a country was formed to govern itself,” creating an “exceptional country,” one that sends its citizens to defend the lives and liberty of those in other countries. “It’s an incredible thing. It makes you really proud to be an American.”
Keynote speaker National Exchange Club President Kathy Mize spoke of the club’s dedication to Americanism, children, veterans, and community service.
“We need unity today in the United States more than ever. We all need to come together, not be divisive, not have unrest, but come together for stronger communities, stronger families.”
Pointing to the flags on the field, Mize reminded listeners that the soldier gives Americans the freedoms of the press and speech and the ability to pursue happiness.
Referencing the club’s national focus on the prevention of child abuse, Mize told the crowd that 672,000 children are in foster care in the U.S. “Every day, five children die at the hand of abuse of their parent or caretaker.”
Over the past year, 117,122 cases of child abuse and neglect were investigated in North Carolina. Mize asked the crowd “to get involved and make a difference” in this issue.
Finally, Mize asked the crowd to take a few moments this weekend to think about the men and women who died for the flag and Americans’ freedom and values. She asked all to take a moment to thank first responders, police, firefighters, and healthcare workers “for their unwavering efforts.”
The ceremony ended with the playing of each military branch’s song, with veterans standing for their branch and earning the cheers and applause of the crowd, followed by Rockie Lynne’s performance and fireworks.