From sea to shining sea, America celebrates its 226th birthday
The Associated PressFive hundred immigrants became Americans during a ceremony at Disney World by reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, "especially under God." Thousands of parade-watchers in Michigan sang "America the Beautiful." A Yankee Doodle Pops concert-goer in Iowa showed up with dyed red and blue hair.
From sea to shining sea, Americans on Thursday gathered for parades and fireworks, displaying more than the usual July Fourth patriotic fervor because of another significant date: Sept. 11.
"The anniversary of America's independence is a day for gratitude and a day of celebration," President Bush told 8,000 people who crowded into a Ripley, W.Va., courthouse to hear his address on the nation's 226th birthday.
The celebrations took on special meaning in New York City, where the annual Macy's fireworks display was to pay special tribute to victims and heroes of Sept. 11 -- even as security tightened around the event, as well as landmarks and transportation hubs.
"Don't let the terrorists win by having you afraid," Mayor Michael Bloomberg urged before marching in a parade. "Enjoy the fireworks, remember those that we lost, and look forward to the future, which is why they all gave their lives."
At Disney World in Orlando, Fla., 500 immigrants from 89 countries who were sworn in as citizens.
"We are one nation, especially under God. And I don't believe 'under God' should be looked at by a judge so callously," immigration Judge Roberto Morena said to applause.
A federal appeals court ruled last month that the pledge's phrase "one nation under God" amounted to a government endorsement of religion, violating the separation of church and state.
In Virginia, 82 people became U.S. citizens during the 40th annual Monticello Independence Day Celebration and Naturalization Ceremony.
Living in America with "all kinds of freedoms around you," people sometimes take those freedoms for granted, said "Angela's Ashes" author Frank McCourt, speaking at the Monticello event.
"After the attacks, he said, "we began to think about being American in a way we never had before."
In Des Moines, celebrations began Wednesday night with a Yankee Doodle Pops concert at the Capitol honoring heroes of Sept. 11.
"I think we feel kind of secure out here in nowhere, in the Midwest," said Randy Embrey, 39, whose wife, Krista, dyed her blond hair blue and red and painted her fingernails red, white and blue.
Around the nation, security was on people's minds.
At Los Angeles International Airport, thousands were evacuated after a gunman opened fire at Israel's El Al airline's ticket counter. Three people were killed, including the gunman. A small plane also crashed into a park a suburban Los Angeles park, killing one person, authorities said.
On Philadelphia's Independence Mall, the nation's birthplace, the city conducted its annual "ringing" of the Liberty Bell.
"Those that attacked us, underestimated our resolve," Pennsylvania Gov. Mark Schweiker said. "No one will break this mold called America."
Jeffrey Orth, known to San Francisco commuters as the Flag Man, walked across the Golden Gate Bridge waving an American flag for the last time -- applauded with honks and flag-waving from passing cars.
"I think that sense of celebration of the American spirit will continue without my daily reminder," Orth said. "Hopefully all of America will reflect for a moment on the freedoms we enjoy and take for granted."
Elsewhere in the West, concern over devastating wildfires and a persistent drought put a damper on celebrations and forced the cancelation of fireworks displays.
"All it takes is but one spark from any firework, and we could have a repeat of what happened in Colorado or Arizona," said Fire Marshal Ted Bolleter of Santa Fe, N.M.