PEPPERELL -- Another July Fourth is over in Pepperell, a weekend of big events made possible by the community.
Pepperell Fourth of July Committee President Carol Gates called her team "the most amazing group of people" she has ever met. Working year round, the seven members took time from their work and families to plan, book, prepare and raise funding. According to Gates, they surpassed their funding goal and are able to carry over funds for the 2013 celebration.
"Attendance for the parade and the fireworks were both amazing," Gates said. "People come from all over to Pepperell because it is small town at it's very best."
Neighboring Townsend and Groton residents joined in on the festivities, but Gates said the committee met former Pepperell residents from Florida who returned for the celebration and other folks who cut short their family vacations to return on Saturday at noon, when the parade kicked off.
Horses, classic cars, fire trucks, snow cones, dancers, costumed marchers, from minutemen to Capt. Jack Sparrow; and more paraded down Main Street. Grand Marshal Tracey Ezzio led the procession after receiving the most votes from local residents.
Wet weather held off, too, despite an iffy overcast sky and made for a cool evening on the field behind Varnum Brook Elementary School. Considering the celebration's popular handle "Small Town -- Big Bang," said bang could be the low, pop and flash of twin 75mm World War II Pack Howitzers being fired
The firing of the Howitzers is a tradition as strong as it is loud, if not stronger. For the past five years, Army civilian Tim Murphy, who works in armament, has been tending the guns.
Murphy works on Devens doing small-arms inspection and repair and providing weapons expertise for the Department of Defense. He called the Howitzers a "piece of living history" and works as a steward for the guns.
"They are called pack Howitzers because their components can be broken down and hauled away piece by piece," he said.
During the WWII Pacific Campaign, American troops used to use mules to carry the pieces around, Murphy said. When they needed to be deployed, they could be set up quickly and trained on targets for direct engagement or used as support artillery to fire on enemies at great distances, he explained.
On July 7, situated beside a school, they have a different purpose.
"Our work all goes to support the mission on the ground," Murphy said of the Army civilians. "If anybody needs a pat on the back, it's these young guys on real world missions."
Murphy and a team of ammo and transport specialists set up the guns and, along with a group of active duty vets, fired them off just before the firework display.
Right before the Howitzer volleys, which get their own audience, VFW Post 3291 Quartermaster Tony Saboliauskas read of a list of active soldiers to the crowd, including their ranks and where they are stationed.
"God bless you all," he said.
Privates, specialists, sergeants and more stationed on bases in the continental U.S. Afghanistan, Germany and some at home for the event.
Sgt. Tim Hurley sat and watched the Howitzer volleys with his wife, Meghan Hurley, and her son, Caleb Johnson.
"The families should be recognized, too," Tim Hurley said. "All we do is go to work."
Pepperell resident Tonya Callahan sang the national anthem, dedicating it to all "those who fought so hard for our country's freedom." She also dedicated the performance to her friend Leslie Spoth, who was killed in an accident on July 6.
"That was very sad, affected a lot of us in a big way, she we such a part of the community," Callahan said after her performance. "Our thoughts are with her family."
Before the parade began, Saboliauskas was introduced to Col. Steve Egan, the new commanding officer at Devens.
"He asked 'where do you need me,' said Saboliauskas. "So I said 'rifle squad' and he joined up and marched with us, it was a great way to introduce him to town."
After marching past the Seats of Honor, hosted by Chapel and Lorri Guarnieri on Main Street, Saboliauskas complimented them on another successful year.
The Guarnieris put on a brunch and provide shaded seating for any and all veterans attending the parade. As the VFW honor guard passes, the soldiers hold a short ceremony and provide vets with a commemorative coin.
This year, Saboliauskas said the coins were dedicated to the Korean War, and any veterans of that conflict who did not receive a coin on Independence Day are welcome to contact him at the VFW to pick up their much-deserved memorabilia, he said.
"I want to thank Tony is for being the most dedicated person I know," Gates said. "His commitment to our soldiers and veterans is an inspiration to me.
"Each year, in a way that only he can, he calls out the names of all our service men and women from Pepperell."
Gates went on to thank the town officials, Pepperell Police and Fire departments and town businesses for all their support.
"And especially the residents of Pepperell, because we truly do live in an amazing community," she said.
Local businesses Charlotte's Cozy Kitchen, Chef on Wheels, Grace Baptist Church, Tara's Fried Dough and 50 Back all contributed to the town field celebration before the fireworks, and Gates said next year she is looking to have even more of the Pepperell businesses involved.
Still, the biggest challenge the committee meets is keeping the spirit of the fourth alive year round, she says.
"The Pepperell Fourth of July Committee is an amazing group of people, and and so should be congratulated," Gates said. "I am so blessed to have them not only as committee members but as friends."
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