A steady drizzle drenched hundreds of Murray residents, but even Mother Nature couldn't dampen the enthusiasm of their grand gala celebrating the return of more Utah troops from the Persian Gulf.

Appropriately, Independence Square was the site of the patriotic celebration - complete with fireworks, cannon blasts, yellow balloons and dignitaries who huddled under umbrellas to watch performances by community and school bands, dancers and choirs.The spotlight shone on Merrill Osmond Entertainers, but the show stealers were the soldiers who fought for freedom - and won.

"This celebration means that American people have trust in our military now and have a love for us. It just shows there is freedom," said an emotional Sgt. Michael Wilson of the 625th Military Police Battalion. The group, based at the Murray National Guard Armory, returned to Utah last Saturday night. "I had the opportunity of being the first person to shake their hands as the troops got off the plane," Murray Mayor Lynn Pett said. "It was nice to be able to say: `Thank you for what you have done. Welcome home.' "

Despite the steady rain, the elaborate outdoor show Friday went on - well into the afternoon.

The Desert Shield/Desert Storm welcome home party was the brainstorm of the Winget family, which owns the square in the heart of Murray's business district.

John Winget said he initiated the festivities in tribute to his brother and business partner, Brent Winget, who recently returned from the battlefield.

Winget's enthusiasm was contagious, and Murray community groups, schools and businessmen, including Jazz owner Larry H. Miller, got caught up in planning and hosting the party.

"It became a community effort that's unbelievable. People are full of well-wishes," John Winget said. "The whole community has been waiting to say, `We supported you, now welcome back. And, thank you.' "