By Mason W. Canales
Killeen Daily Herald
BELTON - Groups of umbrellas clustered on the sidewalks and edges of the streets in Belton as the Patriotic Program took place before the Fourth of July Parade Saturday.
"Belton is renowned around across Texas and the entire nation for this celebration," said Col. Larry Phelps, commander of the 15th Sustainment Brigade, 13th Sustainment Command at Fort Hood.
The crowd hushed to hear him speak outside the Bell County Courthouse an hour before the parade began.
"Since my recent return from Iraq, I have thought about what I am going to say here," Phelps said.
Phelps talked about the soldiers working hard in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"They are truly remarkable men and women," Phelps said. "I could describe to you how these local heroes are making a difference in Iraq. ... How life over there is more normal, more predictable."
Phelps also talked about the soldiers' families and how they played an important role as heroes, too, but those issues were not the point he wanted to make during his speech.
"I knew I had to talk about you, Central Texas, Belton," Phelps said. "Before we deployed, you were there. While we were deployed, you were there. You took care of our families."
Belton's basketball team sewed 15th Sustainment patches on their jerseys, a Belton High School football uniform with the number 15 hung in his office in Iraq, and a Belton flag flew above their headquarters in Iraq as well, Phelps said.
"It stood above and reminded us that the eyes of Texas are upon us," Phelps said.
It is Central Texas' patriotic work that makes the area special, and the reason it can run a Fourth of July parade for 86 years, Phelps said.
"This is the most patriotic group of Americans I have stood among, and I am proud to call myself a Central Texan," Phelps said.
Phelps presented the Belton flag back to Mayor Jim Covington, who stood among other political leaders, including Texas Republican House members Ralph Sheffield and Jimmy Don Aycock.
The flag will hold a special honor to Belton, Covington said.
Members of the crowd, including Myrma Long and Eunice Weider of Temple, were pleased by Phelps' speech.
"I think it is was very inspiring," Weider said.
It helped Weider remember that the freedom she enjoys was not free, that people should remember those who do not make it home.
Weider and Long have a long tradition of attending the parade, and were excited to see more than 60 floats and groups travel down the Belton roadways.
"It is an annual event, and it is really nice to see it still going on despite the economic hardships in the nation," Long said.
For Phelps, it is people like Weider and Long who show their support for the nation and those serving in the armed forces that makes days like the Fourth of July special, he said.
"I thank all of you for what you do to help keep our freedoms," Phelps said, ending his speech.
Contact Mason W. Canales at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7554. Follow him on Twitter at KDHheights.