EAST BEND — Saturday’s 25th annual God & Country Celebration here was small town America at its best.
Townspeople, former residents and guests — many of them dressed in red, white and blue — began lining the streets an hour or more before the start of the 9:30 a.m. parade. Flags were everywhere, as well as other patriotic decor put out by residents.
Pallets painted red, white and blue decorated the lawn of one house on Main Street, while a wooden Uncle Sam cutout was displayed leaning against a flag-decorated gazebo in another lawn up the street.
Wayne Johnson, who brought a chair to secure his spot in front of the First United Methodist Church, said he’s never missed a parade. “I’ve been in most of them,” he said, either with entries by the American Legion or Faith Community Church.
Johnson said his pastor was doing the 6 p.m. worship service in the East Bend Elementary School auditorium. Leaders and members of other area churches also were scheduled to participate in the service.
Crystal and Robbie Hunt were at the parade with their daughter, 17-month-old Dixie. They brought her last year, too, Crystal said, but “she doesn’t remember it.”
Both Crystal and Robbie grew up in East Bend, and like most of the residents there, had been in the parades many times through the years. Robbie drove a tractor for 15 years, he said, and Crystal said she had ridden on her church’s floats for several years.
Robbie said they’ve been to other parades, “but this is always the best one.”
Just up the street, Brian Poindexter also was watching the parade after participating in it for years as part of the American Legion. “I turned all that over,” he said.
Having served in the Vietnam era, Poindexter said he is proud to call East Bend home. “It’s just where I am,” he said, “where I am going to be.”
Like everyone else, Poindexter was prepared to watch the parade, rain or shine. At times, rain seemed inevitable but held off, resulting in cooler and more comfortable weather.
“You can’t set rain dates,” he said. “If you’re going to schedule it, you just about have to have it. You’re under the mercy of the good Lord.”
As it turned out, the Lord was indeed good. David Shore, commander of the Joseph E. Martin American Legion Post 336 in East Bend and the master of ceremonies at the 11 a.m. ceremony following the parade, said afterward that the weather cooperated the whole day. “It was a little bit muggy with the overcast sky,” he said, “but we didn’t have the hot sun beaming down on us.”
East Bend Mayor Larry Adams rode in Shore’s 1961 Oldsmobile convertible as the grand marshal for the parade, which Shore said featured a record number of entries. Adams, who was fighting a kidney stone, did decline to go onstage at the opening ceremonies held afterward on the East Bend School grounds because of the severity of his pain.
Shore recognized Grand Marshal Adams at the ceremony. Born and raised in East Bend, Adams was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1968 and served in Vietnam until 1969, when he was wounded.
In introducing the Purple Heart recipient, Shore shared with the crowd that he had helped train Adams when he was stationed at Fort McClellan, Alabama. “It made him feel a little better having somebody from Yadkin County there,” he said, “and we’ve been good friends ever since.”
Shore said he was pleased with the number of veterans who lined up in front of the stage to be recognized. “I think we had more veterans there for that than we’ve had in a long time,” he said. “We even had women veterans there.”
Dr. Alton Ridgway, a 97-year-old World War II veteran, was among those recognized. “I would dare say if he’s not the oldest veteran in the county, he’s one of the oldest,” Shore said.
The master of ceremonies announced the parade’s winning entries at the opening ceremony: Most Patriotic, Shady Grove Dairy; Best Theme, East Bend United Methodist Church; Best Youth Theme, New Home and Shady Grove United Methodist churches; and Most Inspirational by a Church, Faith Community Church.
Entertainment afterward included performances by the Dream Dancers, Hickory Bend Bluegrass Band and Cimarron Bluegrass.
After the opening ceremony, people were able to choose their lunch from a wide range of food offerings and explore tents and booths offering activities for children and items for sale. There were also plenty of fun activities brought in for children.
Attendees said the 6 p.m. fireworks show was the best one yet, Shore said, thanks in part to the extra $1,000 organizers spent on the display. “With this being our 25th anniversary,” he said, “we wanted to go out with a bang on it.”
Yadtel officials, which are running new fiber optic cable and Internet service into East Bend, approached Shore and the other organizers about sponsoring this year’s God & Country Celebration. “They made a good financial contribution,” he said, as well as paying for the billboards and banner across Main Street.
Other local businesses contributed to the cost by buying ads in the God & Country Celebration booklets.
Yadtel also gave away a free television, other door prizes and red insulated bags from its booth.
Kathy Chaffin can be reached at 336-258-4058.