The crowd outside of Crothersville High School was full of mingling and laughter.
But when the bagpipes began playing “Amazing Grace,” those sitting in lawn chairs and on blankets along Preston Street rose to their feet in silence as three uniformed men marched to the flagpole.
The POW/MIA flag was raised alongside the red, white and blue American flag, and salutes were made before the state and national colors were presented.
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Patriotic songs including “Proud to be an American” and “The Star-Spangled Banner” were sung and those who have served or who have fallen in war were paid tribute.
These were a few of the moments during the opening ceremonies of the 40th Red, White and Blue Festival on Thursday. For more than 25 years, the annual festival has used its opening ceremonies to honor veterans and recognize Old Glory.
Command Sgt. Major Paul Clark Jr., who made the trip to the festival from the Tyndall Armory in Indianapolis, said it’s very important to honor the men and women soldiers who have died for our country.
“This offers a time to heal, and in most communities throughout the U.S. or at least in a nearby community, they will have experienced losing someone to combat — whether it be in the Revolutionary War to Operation Enduring Freedom,” said Clark who is with the Indiana Guard Reserve.
Clark, who has played a part in the festival for three years, became emotional before the opening ceremonies, recalling his own loss of someone during the Vietnam War.
“These are things we have got to do as veterans and as soldiers to always let them know that they will never be forgotten because if we forget, then we’re not doing our job as soldiers,” he said.
Besides recognizing the red, white and blue of Old Glory, the festival also offered three days of fun, including food, rides, contests, live music, fireworks and more.
An antique farm machinery show was set up for the public to enjoy.
Melanie Hoevener and her husband, Kevin, who have two boys attending Crothersville High School, have helped coordinate the show for eight years.
This year, there were classic tractors on display from area farmers, including Farmall, John Deere, Allis-Chalmers and Oliver tractors — some dating back to the 1940s and 1950s.
“It adds to the festival a little bit,” Melanie Hoevener said. “It’s something else to see while you’re here.”
She said to her, it’s not the display that she enjoys the most, but the residents who set up lawn chairs around the line of tractors.
“The best part is listening to the farmers’ stories,” she said with a smile.
The festival also had a multitude of food and drinks from vendors, including Sow Baby’s Barbecue, a local restaurant that offered pulled pork and brisket sandwiches along with pork nachos.
Owner Jeff Hagen said he participates as a vendor at the festival because it’s a chance to see and meet an array of people.
“There’s people I haven’t seen in forever who I get to see,” he said.
“You get to try everybody’s different food and talk to people who are from surrounding counties even.”
Others come to the festival to get a bite to eat, bring their kids or even catch a concert or two.
Viola Gay, who lives a few miles up the road at Uniontown, said she has been attending the festival for at least 15 years. The 78-year-old said she tries to come by two or three times during the weekend to see what’s going on.
“I just come by, and I like to watch the kids,” she said, smiling in her lawn chair along Preston Street. “I like to watch the flag when they come in and pay tribute.”
William Hendren and his wife, Loreda, who also live at Uniontown, said what draws them in is the food, though they also like the tractor show and the opening ceremonies.
“We like the taco in a bag, the pork burgers and the Saturday morning breakfast,” William Hendren said.
He and his wife also have been coming for about 15 years, and he said the festival has continued its tradition for 40 years because of the people who attend.
“Most of them went to school here, so it’s kind of like a home-coming for most of them,” he said.
Sara Salas, who was born and raised in Crothersville, also credits the people — the community members who attend, and those who help with the long-standing event.
She came out this year to enjoy the festivities with her husband and two kids.
“It’s more just a family-oriented place,” Salas said. “There’s the tractors, the music and my niece was in the baby contest. Everybody kind of just gathers in the evenings to relax, have dinner together and socialize.”
“There’s people I haven’t seen in forever who I get to see,” Jeff Hagen said of the festival. “You get to try everybody’s different food and talk to people who are from surrounding counties even.”