The grounds of Salt Lake City's historic Fort Douglas and This Is the Place Heritage Park were alive with cannon fire, music and fundraising efforts on Saturday in an annual celebration of Flag Day.
This year's slate included support groups for members of the armed services, as well as lectures, Civil War re-enactors and displays of historic military vehicles and memorabilia throughout the day, culminating with a 1940s musical performance and swing dancing Saturday evening.
The Utah-based group Letters To Soldiers hosted one section of the gathering with booths for attendees to write or video message deployed troops. Denise Devynck of Orem started the organization about 17 months ago when her fiance was beginning his fourth tour in Iraq. She said she came to realize how many of the soldiers were missing out on tidings from family and friends.
"Four thousand guys who have been on three tours already are scheduled for a fourth, and half of them don't get anything from home," Devynck said. "I decided to go all over Utah ... to every festival and school and everywhere I could think of to get the word out."
Devynck, in addition to getting letters to soldiers overseas, was working on raising funds Saturday to ship a large batch of donations her group had received.
"We have 11 pallets of Tahitian Noni soft chews (snack bars) and 11 pallets of Neways personal products that have been donated for the troops," Devynck said. "We need to raise $5,000 to get this stuff shipped." A variety of sponsors donated food and beverages toward the organization's fundraising effort.
Amber Bridenstine from Sunset and Nicole Borba from Clearfield stopped by a video-messaging booth. They sent a message to their friend, David Audette, who is one month into his current five-month tour in Iraq. Both were excited about the chance to get word to their friend.
"We told him he's awesome and we're both proud of him," Bridenstine said
"Being able to send him a video was way cool. .. . We miss him," Borba added. Another participant in Saturday's event was the Utah Freedom Memorial group, a recently formed nonprofit dedicated to raising up to $1 million to create a soldiers memorial in Utah. The group's charity motorcycle ride involved more than 200 riders who made a loop from This Is the Place Heritage Park to Tooele and back. Scott Trudo, one of the group's founders, said he was motivated to do something to honor those in service by questions his son had about the war in Iraq.
"My son asked me what was going on and why people were over there," Trudo said. "I realized our children and youth don't really understand what the cost of freedom is."
Trudo said former Salt Lake County Mayor Nancy Workman put him in touch with others who helped get the group off the ground. Saturday's ride was the first event aimed at raising funds for the memorial, and Trudo said the group had also garnered support from Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., as well as Lt. Gov. Gary Herbert.
Trudo manages the Riverton Wal-Mart and said his company is one of a number of corporate sponsors of the memorial project.
Musical performances accompanied the day's activities and included local bands, singers and the 23rd Army Band. Morgan musician Lantern Lane performed her song "My Prayers Are With You, Soldier" to a crowd gathered on Fort Douglas' Stilwell Field. Lane said the motivation for the song was her feelings following the attacks on the U.S. in 2001.
"I wrote this song after 9/11," Lane said. "I knew after what happened that troops would be sent, ... and I just sat down at my piano and wrote it."
Lane has dedicated proceeds from her CD sales to supporting troops in Iraq, including making surgical scrubs for a deployed military medical team. She said she hopes her music will help people remember and think about what service members are doing for the country. "My heart just goes out to the military," Lane said. "I don't think we appreciate them enough for what they do, how long they're gone and the sacrifices they make."More information on Letters To Soldiers is on the group's Web site, www.letterstosoldiers.org. Information on the Utah Freedom Memorial and plans for the memorial itself can be found online at www.utahfreedommemorial.org.