By Tech. Sgt. Elaine Wilson, USAF
Special to American Forces Press Service
Allison Barber, deputy assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, along with World War II veteran Bruce Voges, had the honor of setting off the gargantuan aerial display that unfolded to a medley of country music hits. The fireworks lasted more than 30 minutes, with a finale that some observers said would have been a great show on its own.
In a preamble to the show, two 60-foot American flags sailed above the Ohio River, illuminated by spotlights as they were towed by seemingly invisible aircraft, fluttering majestically against the black, cloudless sky. A narrator recounted the nation’s history and heroes as the more than 800,000 spectators listened in a respectful silence that belied their numbers.
The spectacular display culminated two days of Louisville embracing the nation’s armed forces. On April 21, the city officially joined the Defense Department’s “America Supports You” program, which highlights ways everyday Americans and the corporate sector show support for the men and women serving in the nation’s armed forces. That night, any servicemember who wanted to attend the Louisville Bats baseball game was able to do so as a guest of the city. The family of Kentucky National Guardsman Master Sgt. William K. Buechele, who’s deployed to Afghanistan, received free VIP passes to Thunder Over Louisville.
Wayne Hettinger, who started Thunder Over Louisville 17 years ago and serves as show producer, said the patriotic theme has always been part of the event, and that the extra Defense Department involvement this year through America Supports You was a welcome addition.
“It’s been a very patriotic show from the start, and (the Defense Department) just took it over the edge,” he said. “So how can you go wrong with support like that?”
The Navy’s Blue Angels performed yesterday, and the day also featured demonstrations and flyovers by dozens of military and vintage aircraft of every shape and size. Hettinger said that’s always been an important part of the event, and coordinating aerial participation is practically a year-round pursuit.
“We started on that yesterday (for next year),” he said. He noted that participants and planners started trading ideas already for next year’s event, adding work on the 2007 show would start in earnest probably in January.”
Thunder Over Louisville kicks off the city’s Kentucky Derby Festival, a series of celebrations leading up to the “Run for the Roses” on the first Saturday in May. “This is the opening ceremony for two weeks of fun in Louisville,” Hettinger said.
In an interview with Francene Cucinello of Talk Radio Louisville 84 WHAS, Barber noted that air shows featuring military aircraft have taken on a whole new meaning.
“I think that when you go to an air show today, it gives you a new sense of respect for what the men and women of our military are doing in this global war on terrorism,” she said. “Five years ago when you saw an air show, you just thought, ‘Wow, that’s pretty impressive.’ Today when you see an air show, you say, ‘My gosh, these men and women are committed to serving our country. They’re defending our freedom across the globe, and they’re using these tools, this technology, to keep our country safe.'”
Cucinello noted that while support for the military peaks in the early part of a crisis, interest can wane as the situation continues over time. She asked what people can do to renew and put into action their desire to support the nation’s people in uniform.
“We’d love people to go to the America Supports You Web site, www.americasupportsyou.mil,” Barber said, “and click on the button that says ‘How to Help.’ You’ll find over 200 ways that people can support our military members. Maybe it’s sending care packages, being a pen pal, donating phone cards – all sorts of things people can do.”
Noting Louisville’s partnership with America Supports You, Barber added that the partnership proved yesterday to be much more than a formal proclamation.
“We stood at a booth today for several hours, and thousands of people came by,” she said. At the booth, people were able to fill out post cards to send messages of support to deployed servicemembers. “Louisville loves the military, and we’re just darned grateful,” she said.