By Don Bolding

Fort Hood Herald

BELTON - If you don't start things on the hour anywhere close to downtown Belton, everyone knows about it because of the big chiming clock on the Bell County Courthouse tower. So at straight up 9 a.m. Saturday, the microphones flipped on for the annual patriotic program on the courthouse lawn.

And announcers competed with the chimes again to announce the world-famous parade had started rolling down Main Street from its formation at 10th Street. The stars of the patriotic presentation just had time enough to race the mile or so north to get in and on their vehicles to wave all the way down Main Street to the courthouse at Central Avenue, and east almost to Interstate 35 where they turned north on Birdwell to Fourth to disperse. High school youths whose music heralded the parade were back on Main long before the last of the procession had reached the courthouse.

Belton Area Chamber of Commerce board chairman Chris Moore said the parade had close to 150 entries this year, down from 200 last year, possibly because of the economy. Many entries come from far out of town.

The patriotic program on a platform on the north side of the courthouse probably would have started as the secondhand reached 9, anyway, in deference to the featured speaker this year, Lt. Gen. Rick Lynch, commander of III Corps and Fort Hood.

He shared the space with dignitaries including U.S. Rep. John Carter, State Reps. Ralph Sheffield and Jimmie Don Aycock and their wives as well as Belton Mayor Jim Covington and city council members and mayors of surrounding cities, most of whom rode later in the parade. Lynch was the grand marshal.

Lynch told the crowd at the courthouse, "We can focus on the fight because you focus on the family at home. A lot of people have almost forgotten about the events of Sept. 11, 2001, when 3,000 people died on American soil, but it's why we're in Iraq and Afghanistan, so we can fight them there and not here. And we'll be there at least 10 more years."

He said, "A lot of people take for granted what we have here. I was at the Berlin Wall when it came down and saw all those people on the other side who had nothing and suddenly had everything. Kosovo, when it finally got its own army, understood full well the importance of it. I met a 72-year-old man in Iraq who was so grateful to be free of tyranny that he found the biggest knife he had in his house and took it to the front lines to join the battle."

He ended by exhorting the crowd, "When it comes to your country, don't be a taker. Be a giver."

A detail from the 13th Sustainment Command, Belton's adopted unit, posted the colors. The flags included a banner with ribbons for major battles since 1775. Carter, preceding Lynch at the podium, said, "These battle ribbons tell the history of men and women who stood up for liberty and were willing to die for it. When our ancestors signed that document and pledged 'our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor,' they knew they were signing their own death warrants if the revolution failed."

He said, "We should celebrate who we are. Every time people overseas who call us names have cried for our help in time of trouble, we've answered, and we've asked for no land except enough to bury our battle dead."

In other annual traditions, Boy Scout troops 117 and 118 led the Pledge of Allegiance, and the Belton High School Madrigals sang the national anthem and provided other patriotic music.

Moore said he had met seven people from London who wanted to be in America on July 4, researched the options on the Web and settled on Belton. In past years, USA Today called the parade one of the top 10 Independence Day parades in the country, and Texas Highways magazine said the celebration is the best place in the state to be on the Fourth.

The parade traces its history to 1850 and has many longtime annual participants including a miniature train carrying the descendants of Dr. Will Long, who ceded his position of engineer for the first time this year to his son, Dr. Bill Long. Other groups included sheriff's posses on horseback, Shriners driving go-carts, SPJST floats celebrating Czech heritage, representatives of Juneteenth celebrations and many other civic groups and companies.

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