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Unity on Parade in Southland

Holiday: From Ojai to Huntington Beach, Sept. 11 injects new meaning, along with renewed patriotism, into Independence Day celebrations.

July 05, 2002|JENIFER RAGLAND and DANIEL YI | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Beverly White never felt more American.

Decked out in a sequined jacket styled after Old Glory, the 69-year-old Ventura resident watched with delight Thursday as cheerleaders, baton-twirlers and horseback riders marched past in Ojai's Fourth of July parade--one of many patriotism-packed celebrations throughout Ventura County.

"I think since Sept. 11, Americans are more united," said White, her red-white-and-blue-jeweled earrings sparkling. "We're more aware of the freedoms we have here."

Amid renewed anxiety over possible terrorist threats, thousands of Southland residents celebrated the first post-Sept. 11 Independence Day under heightened security and an even greater 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 shooting involved terrorism, that fear fueled concerns.

The shooting 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 think everyone is taking a different look at things this year, like wanting to keep families close together,'' said Rose Obradovich, a 25-year Ojai resident who sat in the shade watching the town parade with her husband, Steve, and her dog, Sugar.

"We're all waiting and hoping nothing is going to happen," she said. "But we're also going on with our lives."

The Ojai parade drew 10,000 people--2,000 more than the population of the small town at the base of Los Padres National Forest.

"It's classic Americana," said Ventura County Supervisor Steve Bennett, who waved to constituents from an electric go-cart. "You know almost everyone, and you are so close to the people you can actually shake hands."

Added Mayor Steve Olsen: "Nobody in Ojai misses the Fourth of July. They wait to go on vacation until after the parade."

In Ventura, nearly 20,000 people crowded Main Street for the city's annual street fair and Independence Day celebration, while hundreds of holiday revelers headed to the beach.

Police and parks officials closed access to Grant Park, a popular hillside spot overlooking downtown, amid concerns about the threat of wildfires from illegal fireworks.

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.

Just 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 that he has called home for four decades.

When he rides his black bicycle, 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.

Bill Cuppy, a 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, Marjorie Hernandez and Karima Haynes contributed to this report.

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