I’m not quite a “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” but close enough: I was born just seven hours too late to be a Fourth of July baby, so the holiday has always been special to me.
When I was very young, before I knew the history and significance of Independence Day, I called it “Fireworks Day” for obvious reasons. I remember marveling at how those charcoal-colored tablets grew into ashen black snakes when lit, and I loved it when my parents let me hold one of the sparklers (closely supervised, of course).
In some ways, I was disappointed to learn that Cambria’s annual fireworks show has been shelved this year because of the drought. But any other decision would have sent the wrong message. It’s a sensible move that puts safety ahead of spectacle.
“We’re very disappointed, but we have to be mindful of the drought,” said Greg Sanders, 1st vice commander of American Legion Post 432, which stages the community’s July 4 celebration. “The fireworks are around the ocean, but one errant rocket and the town could burn to the ground.”
Sanders promised the same level of celebration during daylight hours as the town has enjoyed in past years, and he said organizers would work to have “a great all-American celebration that will extend into the evening.”
Of course, the holiday is much more than “Fireworks Day.” It’s a celebration of our nation’s independence, of the sacrifices that it took to win that freedom and those it sometimes takes to preserve it.
Fireworks are a wonderful symbol of that, but they’re gone in a flash. A more lasting symbol exists in Cambria at the eastern corner of the Vets Hall parking lot (at Main Street and Cambria Road) in the form of the Cambria Veterans Memorial.
The Legion has announced plans to upgrade the memorial with a third phase of construction that will include a raised, lighted walkway and pony wall around the memorial that will be accessible to disabled visitors.
A total of 6,500 bricks will be used in the 5-foot-wide walkway, and a short post-and-chain guardrail will be installed around the perimeter.
As part of the project, a new electrical subpanel will be added at the Vets Hall, with an underground conduit to the memorial so it can be illuminated at night.
The American flag is the only portion of the memorial that’s illuminated at present; Sanders said the new lights won’t be as bright, and they will be directed down and outward to light up the surface of the pedestal, so there won’t be any distracting glare for passersby.
Mark Greenaway, a general contractor who created the original sculpture that’s the centerpiece of Atascadero’s impressive Faces of Freedom Veterans Memorial, created and donated the design, Sanders said. He’ll also assist general contractor Jon Hamman in making that vision to a reality.
Greenway “sat down with us, and he guided the design for the finished product,” Sanders said, adding that the process took about six months. “It’s very well thought-out and professional, and when it’s done, it will look as good as a memorial can look.”
Estimated cost for the project: $100,000.
That’s considerably more than the $49,000 combined cost of the first two phases, which is why Sanders and Terry Farrell have started a fundraising campaign to get the job done.
They hope to have the upgrade ready in time for next year’s Memorial Day commemoration. But they’re confident they can begin construction in nine months, which is what they estimate they’ll need to do to meet that deadline.
They say they’ve already raised about a quarter of the money they need, including $3,000 in donations they gathered in envelopes passed out at this year’s Memorial Day service, where the project was announced. Farrell, Sanders and Cambria Citizen of the Year Mel McColloch have made donations, and more money will be raised through minimum donations of $125 for three-line inscriptions on the memorial’s bricks. Bricks do not have to be purchased by or dedicated to veterans.
“We even have a service dog named Dover” on one of the bricks that’s already in place, Farrell said. “There’s a lot of interesting people in there.”
That’s part of the message Sanders and Farrell are trying to send: The memorial’s core mission is to honor veterans, but beyond that, it’s a focal point for the entire town.
“It’s important not just because it’s a veterans’ memorial, but also because it’s at the gateway to our community,” Sanders said, adding that the project is anything but a tribute to war. “Who wants peace more than a soldier who’s in a foxhole?” he asked. “This is not about war; it’s about remembrance.”
Farrell added that the memorial is “really a statement about our town. It’s the biggest venue in the community. Pretty much everybody uses it.”
No one, by contrast, will be using fireworks on Independence Day in Cambria — not even the so-called “safe and sane” variety, which could still earn you a fine of up to $2,000.
Buying your own fireworks could easily cost you a couple of hundred bucks if they were legal. So why not take that money and put it toward a good cause? There’s the Food Bank, the Homeless Animal Rescue Team and any number of other good causes locally. And if you want to do something in the spirit of the holiday, you might consider donating to the Legion’s Veterans Memorial project.
Fireworks may fizzle out, but the memorial, like the freedom our veterans have fought to preserve, endures.