As the birthplace of the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution, Philadelphia has the longest history in the nation of celebrating the United States’ birthday. Many veterans attended the city’s Celebration of Freedom Ceremony on July 4 to honor the tradition and history of the United States.
After being suspended in 2020 due to COVID-19, the annual Wawa Welcome America festival returned to Philadelphia to commemorate the Fourth of July, spanning 16 days. It aimed to showcase what independence and freedom mean with programming from museums and events in the city: hoagie giveaways from Wawa, concerts, waterfront performances by the Philadelphia Orchestra, a fireworks finale over the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and more—all for free.
The Celebration of Freedom Ceremony was held on July 4 outside of Independence Hall to honor our nation’s independence, with remarks given by First Lady Jill Biden, Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney, and other guest speakers. It also included an inspiring reading of the Declaration of Independence, musical performances, and the presentation of the Mayor’s Magis Award, Wawa Foundation Hero Award, and The Celebrate Freedom Award.
This year’s winner of the Wawa Foundation Hero Award with a $50,000 grant is The Veterans Group, an organization based in Philadelphia focusing since 2007 on helping veterans who are homeless or at risk of homelessness.
“We are grateful for all those who served and who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country,” Patti Lovi, executive director of The Veterans Group, told The Epoch Times. The group’s mission is to support veterans who “allowed us our freedom today.”
Veterans’ Patriotism: Upholding Tradition
Philadelphia’s first July 4 celebration took place in 1777, one year after the Declaration of Independence was signed and during the Revolutionary War. The Fourth of July, or Independence Day, has been a federal holiday in the United States since 1941.
David Cook, a veteran, traveled from Florida to Philadelphia with his daughter for a family reunion and to celebrate July 4.
“Fourth of July is probably the biggest day of celebration that we have,” Cook told The Epoch Times, “and I’d like to be a part of it.”
As a lieutenant in the Army, Cook spent 13 months in 1963–64 at the Korean Demilitarized Zone. “I could look out from my barracks where I lived and see the communists on the other side,” he said.
Facing the danger of communism’s infiltration in the United States again, Cook is “disappointed” with the way the Chinese regime treats the United States. “I don’t think they’re playing a fair game. It’s disgraceful what they have done,” Cook said.
He’s also disappointed with the loss of tradition today. “We’ve lost our direction. And it’s going to be hard to recover. It’s sad.”
When he grew up as a little boy, Cook said, “we pledged allegiance to the flag every morning, and we prayed, but all of those kinds have been forgotten. As far as our religion, we’re not even allowed to say prayers in public anymore.”
“It’s such a great country that is suffering a great deal right now. The family unit has been destroyed in this country,” Cook said. “The family unit needs to be brought together.”
Inheritance of History
Celebration of Independence Day is also a reminder of our great nation’s heritage, many people said. They also disagreed with the censorship of the nation’s past.
“We are proud of our country. And when we go by there [Independence Hall], I always get a little emotional feeling because our whole country started right here. I’m proud to be an American,” Larry Ninerell, a serviceman in the late 1950s, told The Epoch Times.
In response to the “cancel culture” movement of removing historical statues, Ninerell said: “We should not judge yesterday by today’s standard. … It’s not fair.”
Scott Watson is a member of the Sons of the Revolution, an organization whose members are all descendants of people who fought in the Revolutionary War.
Watson said that when things in the past are viewed from today’s lens, you see a different spin on things.
“To take today’s standards and tear down the history of this country, I think it is an abomination to this country,” Watson said. “This country was founded on strong principles, and those principles have shone through no matter what, through difficult times and through good times.”
He believes many problems have come through the schools. “Children are not studying history; they don’t know what has come and what the values were in the past.”
Watson’s view against the removal of historical statues resonated with Megan Cook Perks, the daughter of veteran David Cook.
“It was a disgrace to our forefathers, to America, even to the schools in the institutions of education. So it’s a shame,” Perks said.
As a family member of veterans, Perks cherishes our country’s freedom, which was not won for free.
“My generation has not been impacted by war. I’m very grateful for that. As an adult now, I better understand the sacrifices that our forefathers have taken,” she said.
“For me, [Independence Day] is about going back into history and understanding … it’s just more heartfelt.”