By Bret H. McCormick
River Parishes bureau
July 06, 2012
Residents and visitors alike flocked to downtown Baton Rouge on Wednesday to celebrate the Fourth of July.
Some came to visit the USS Kidd and pay homage to the veterans who fought through the years to help the U.S. and its citizens keep their freedoms.
Others were there to grab a cold beverage on a hot day and enjoy one of the numerous specialty foods available from the vendors lined up along River Road.
As the day progressed, the crowds grew, especially when the bands hit the Riverfront Stage in the early afternoon, playing until well into the night.
The Louisiana Air National Guard’s Air Raid demonstration was also a highlight for the crowds as was the Fireworks on the Mississippi show along the river levee, which closed the annual Star-Spangled Celebration.
In Port Allen, meanwhile, visitors to the seventh annual Westside July 4th Fest enjoyed similar activities — music, food, beverages and fireworks along the riverfront, as well as kid-friendly activities such as face-painting, clowns and a magician.
Misham Linton of Baton Rouge was one of many area residents who went downtown to visit the USS Kidd. Linton, her three sisters and two of their friends decided to visit the Veterans Memorial Museum for the first time, she said.
“We’re going to hang out and probably catch the bands and then go home and barbecue,” Linton said.
Jose David, a Honduras native and LSU alumnus, brought his wife and children from Puerto Rico, and they were downtown doing what he described as “tourist things,” including visiting the USS Kidd.
“Seeing it’s the Fourth of July, I wanted to get a feel for the historical background and pay tribute to the veterans who gave their lives,” David said.
As part of a reunion, a group of Navy veterans also visited the USS Kidd, a Navy destroyer that saw action during World War II and the Korean War.
Ron Wolfe, an Albany, Ga., native and former Navy pilot, spent more than 21 years in the Navy before retiring as a lieutenant commander.
Dressed in an American flag shirt, Wolfe, who made three trips to Korea, said visiting the Kidd brought back memories, and the best memory was that he landed his plane every time he took off from an aircraft carrier.
“All of my landings equaled my takeoffs when I was flying,” said Wolfe, adding that he successfully took off and landed 505 flights during his time as a pilot.
Also at the reunion with Wolfe were Noah Mathias, of Cincinnati, Ohio, and Roger McCracken, of Los Angeles.
“I worked on this thing three times,” Mathias said of the Kidd.
Mathias was in the Navy from 1950 to 1954 and worked in the boiler rooms of destroyer ships.
Like Mathias, McCracken said he clearly remembers the time he spent on the USS Kidd. Although it’s not exactly the same today as a museum as it was as a war ship, it still looks very similar, he said.
“I like to come back on it,” McCracken said. “Back then, it wasn’t like that.”
Robert Reynolds, a Denham Springs resident who is a member of the National World War II Museum’s Living History Corps, said he enjoyed the opportunity to visit with the Navy veterans.
“It’s amazing just to hear their stories,” said Reynolds, who has been interviewing World War II veterans for a book he’s writing. “It’s history. These are not second-hand stories. You’re getting real stories first hand.”
Not all of the visitors to downtown Baton Rouge were there for the military museum, though.
David’s 7-year-old daughter, Lorena, sought solace from the heat with a snow cone, one of the many treats available from the River Road vendors. Temperatures reached as high as 94 degrees Wednesday with a heat index in the triple digits, according to the National Weather Service.
Visitors also had their pick of foods such as jambalaya, burgers, hot dogs, wings and nachos, beer and soda or water, and various desserts, including funnel cakes.
The most popular items, by far, were snow cones and ice cream as people tried to cool down in the oppressive heat.
Kyle and Christina Elisar of Gonzales brought their three children — ages 8, 3 and 2 — to catch a glimpse of the air show. Kyle Elisar said the kids had never seen an aircraft up close before.
The family shared a chicken dinner, fries and drinks under a shaded table along River Road while waiting for the air raid, which featured five vintage aircraft that staged a mock attack on the USS Kidd, which defended itself with mock machine-gun and cannon fire.
“We normally stay home with the family and do fireworks or barbecue,” Christina Elisar said of the family’s Fourth of July tradition. “(But) the kids are old enough now” to attend the downtown celebration.
By the time the air show arrived, clouds had drifted into the downtown area, dropping the temperature to the low 80s, and a cool breeze brought relief to the thousands who found spots along the levee to catch a glimpse of the planes, and later the fireworks.
After the planes made several passes at the ship, and cannons went off in mock defense, 4-year-old Nolan Teston of Baker had a big smile on his face as he recounted the event with his parents and older sister.
“That was cool!” he exclaimed, saying his favorite part of the show was watching the “jet-fighter planes.”