I stood on the corner of Highway 87 and Main Street and watched hundreds of tough-looking guys gliding by on motorcycles. I watched as they moved in military precision down a Main Street lined with men, women and children, all waving small American flags. There was cheering and horn blowing, but there were silent tears, too, and the air was absolutely dense with memories.
Intended or not, this was a homecoming with all its dimensions. The air was thick with pride, amazement, wonder, curiosity and many variations of those and other emotions. Personally, I was not prepared for the sight of the large trucks carrying sections of The Wall, which would soon be assembled in Green Valley Park. These trucks were like moving catafalques. My mind could not resist a flashback to 1963 at another very stirring procession -- a riderless horse and a little boy saluting at roadside. Pride fought its way through an enormous sorrow in my heart -- pride in endeavor -- striving for honorable service and answering history's relentless call for justice.
Forty-five years have passed, and only now, in a generation almost oblivious to a time when America came close to losing its way, only now are we coming to grips and attempting to close the wounds of that terrible time. Welcome home vets. We honor your valor and your sacrifice if not the cause you were sent to validate. America's freedom was not at stake, as it turned out, but yours certainly was, and you defended and acquitted yourselves mighty well.
Patriotism is a heady elixir. The display of The Vietnam Memorial Wall here in small-town Arizona was America at its best. "Proud to be an American" was sung loudly and cheered even more loudly. The presenting of the colors, and the placement of wreaths upon the wall were moving experiences. Speeches were blissfully short but heartfelt. Jet fighter planes blasted over the assembled crowd in a salute that also showed a stern readiness to take up a cause on short notice. On that day we rightfully and proudly celebrated individual servicemen and women. It was a time long overdue.
This coming Friday, we rightfully and proudly celebrate a cause -- one almost 300 years running which revolutionized man's thinking about how he was to be governed. On the Fourth of July every year, we summon our best. Our proudest and our most thankful and appreciative emotions concerning the benevolence of fate and the sacrifice of forebears which has created a uniquely rich place in history for all who call themselves Americans.
In Payson, it will be "First Friday." How appropriate. It is a day when we also honor and appreciate a time in history by strolling down Main Street, paying tribute to those who came before us and created a place out of a vision. The street is becoming a venue for artisans and vendors of modern wares, but it is "Old Payson" and retains that feel. Someday, perhaps soon, Main Street will join other well-known Western venues to attract tourists and give local folks a good source for jobs and entertainment.
This coming "First Friday" will see an exciting celebration happening all along Main Street. Beginning around 4 p.m., musicians will play at many of the shops. A magician will amaze crowds at McLane and Main. Bands will play Friday and all weekend at the famous old Oxbow Saloon. The Pro-Rodeo Committee will raise money for the Christmas Kids Fund and other charities. Farther down the street, of course, entertainment, food and fireworks will abound in Green Valley Park. It is a place and time for the entire town to get together, to agree on common values and celebrate our heritage.
I'll see you down on Main Street or in the park, and I'll be waving an American flag. If Payson had a flag, I'd wave that one, too.