Veterans, Civilians Celebrate Independence Day

The Stars and Stripes were everywhere at the annual Fourth of July Peachtree Road Race, from tiny flags taped over sports bras to flags sticking out of baseball caps to giant flags in the hands of runners.

Greg Lohman, 51, and his 20-year-old son, Austin, just back from Air Force boot camp, went all out and painted themselves from head to sneakers as half of the U.S. flag — Austin in the stripes and his father in the stars.

"I just hope it doesn't run," Gerard Carson, another human flag, said, glancing at his own his blue torso and red and white legs.

In Forstburg, Md., the marchers filling Main Street weren't quite up for the speed of Atlanta's 10K race, but they were turned out in crisp military uniform.

Floyd Wigfield, an 87-year-old veteran of the 1944 D-Day invasion, was among the estimated 1,200 military veterans lined up for a half-mile during the town's July Fourth parade.

"They're celebrating all the veterans for years and years," said Wigfield, of Cumberland, Md., who wore his green wool Army uniform despite the soaring heat.

President Bush offered thanks and encouragement to the troops at Fort Bragg, N.C., home of the 82nd Airborne Division.

"You are serving our country at a time when our country needs you. And because of your courage, every day is Independence Day in America," Bush told an estimated 3,500 service members at an outdoor speech.

In towns and cities across America on Tuesday, families sat down to picnics, watched parades and remembered the reasons for the holiday. At the same time, their troops in Iraq were still fighting a deadly insurgency, and North Korea — which Bush has dubbed part of an "Axis of Evil" — testfired at least two missiles, both of which landed in the Sea of Japan.

In many regions, the searing heat and near-drought conditions tamped down the celebration.

About 100 people were treated for heat exhaustion in Washington, D.C., after an Independence Day parade in humid, 90-degree temperatures near the Mall. Most of the patients were marchers, said Alan Etter, a spokesman for the District of Columbia fire and EMS Department. One was hospitalized.

As many as 500,000 people were expected for evening "Capitol Fourth" concert and fireworks display. New York also was preparing for its big fireworks display.

Because of the hot, dry weather in Mandan, N.D., fire trucks were held out of the July Fourth parade. "We don't want to get hung up in a parade and can't get out. It's just too risky," said Mandan Rural Fire Chief Lynn Gustin.

There also was quiet reflection during the Independence Day holiday. In Yakima, Wash., a crowd of more than 200 people prayed quietly at the dedication late Monday of a war memorial honoring six soldiers and Marines with ties to the area who have died in Iraq.

"I hope when people see it, it brings a reality to them," said Nancy Sides, stepmother of Marine Lance Cpl. Dustin L. Sides, one of the six.