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Unity Is Put on Parade Across the Southland

Holiday: Sept. 11 injects new meaning into Independence Day celebrations. About 50,000 turn out for Huntington Beach festivities.


Javier Godinez never felt more American.

The Mexico City native and mariachi band leader was getting ready Thursday morning to take part in Huntington Beach's Fourth of July parade, tuning his strings and assessing the estimated crowd of 50,000, many bathed in red, white and blue.

"There seems to be more unity," the Garden Grove resident observed.

Then, with a proud smile, he offered: "I am becoming an American citizen in three months."

Amid renewed anxiety over terrorist threats, thousands of Southland residents celebrated the first post-Sept. 11 Independence Day under heightened security and an even higher sense of patriotism.

The tension was aggravated by a shooting Thursday at Los Angeles International Airport that left three dead, including the gunman. Although there was no immediate indication the shootings involved terrorism, that fear fueled concerns.

The incident certainly gave Julie Milne pause as she and her family gathered at their summer vacation home in Newport Beach.

"I thought, 'Oh, my gosh! Terrorists have struck us again,' " said Milne, who lives in Las Vegas.

"We are just trying to enjoy the holiday and think about the meaning of it."

Regardless of the fears--or perhaps because of them--Fourth of July celebrants found meanings big and small as they clung to tradition on this most American of holidays.

"I was concerned about coming out here and in being in a big crowd, but it wasn't going to stop me," said Tina Haas, 40, a Sylmar homemaker, as she lighted a barbecue at Hansen Dam Recreation Area in the San Fernando Valley.

Her husband, Frank, 40, agreed.

"If you hide in your house all the time, it just shows that you're scared," he said.

Amid the countless parades, fairs and barbecues, there were many reminders of the September tragedies, as well as the nation's resilience.

In Rancho Cucamonga, a parade featured girders and a firetruck from the World Trade Center wreckage.

Firefighters, the first line of defense in this new war, received standing ovations on main streets across the land. The military, the first line of offense, gained renewed admiration.

Janine Wiberly, 36, and her fiance, Louis Zaffino, 38, were perched on a ledge watching the Huntington Beach parade. When Vietnam War veterans marched past, the couple said it stirred deep emotions.

"It sent shivers down my spine," said Zaffino, attending his first Fourth of July parade.

Down the street, Jack Real, 59, felt something similar as he stood in a crowd where most were clad in some permutation of Old Glory.

Real, who resembles a cross between Santa Claus and a hard-core biker, said he feels more camaraderie these days in the beach town he has called home for four decades.

When he rides his black bike, outfitted with a skull and pirate flag, children and their mothers give him the thumbs-up in greeting.

The events of Sept. 11, he said, spawned a sense of unity he hasn't seen in years.

"I mean, look at [President] Bush," said Real, who makes no secret of his Democratic leanings.

"He practically stole the election, and now the whole country is behind him. I am behind him," he said.

As Real spoke, Godinez's mariachi band, Los Nacionales, or the nationals, and other parade entries streamed down Pacific Coast Highway.

Behind the band, Bill Cuppy, a local real estate agent and Boy Scout volunteer, was running about handing out little American flags.

It's an annual tradition for him, but this year he doubled his patriotic giveaway.

"I got 400 flags," he said, nearly breathless.

"Normally, I give out about 200 or 250. After all that has happened, we need more flags."


Times staff writers Jenifer Ragland, Marjorie Hernandez and Karima Haynes contributed to this report.

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