BELTON — Hometown heroes emerged as one of the themes Saturday morning of the Belton Fourth of July Parade. The rain held off and a cloudy overcast kept the temperature down during the 1½-hour parade, which followed a short program on the north steps of the Bell County Courthouse.
The main speaker, Brigadier Gen. Brett Sylvia, acting 1st Cavalry Division commander at Fort Hood, underscored remarks made earlier by Randy Pittenger, president of the Belton Chamber of Commerce, concerning hometown heroes. Sylvia included police officers, firefighters, educators responders and educators in that group. Other unheralded persons in the past year, during the COVID-19 pandemic and the winter storm, he said, have been truck drivers and grocery store workers.
“Our hometown heroes were essential for getting through this,” he said.
Speaking of the 1st Cavalry Division, Sylvia said it has protected the nation for almost 100 years.
“Each time we fought, we fought to defend those who sought freedom,” he said “Our troopers — they come from communities like Belton, and that’s what makes our Army great.”
In both military and hometown heroes, he said he sees the value of selfless service, “to fulfill our duties loyally without recognition or gain.”
He challenged the crowd: “Let this Independence Day celebration mark a return to normalcy. Reflect on what this holiday means to you, and how you can serve this great nation and our community. You give us a great opportunity to express optimism.”
He quoted John Adams: “Through all the gloom I can see the light.”
Bell County Judge David Blackburn and Belton Mayor Wayne Carpenter spoke earlier on the program.
“True greatness of the nation is found in the subjects of liberty, justice and freedom,” Blackburn said.
Carpenter said the Belton Fourth of July Parade dates to the early 1850s, and by 1919 had become a yearly tradition.
“The patriotic spirit has not been diminished,” he said.
He quoted Abraham Lincoln: “I like to see a man who is proud of the place he lives in.”
“I’m proud of Belton, Texas,” Carpenter said.
To begin the program, a Fort Hood color guard presented the colors. Scout Andy Thomas of Troop 122 led everyone in the Pledge of Allegiance, and the Belton High School Madrigal led in singing the National Anthem.
Pittenger recognized honored guests on the platform, including U.S. Representative John Carter, State Rep. Dawn Buckingham, State Rep. Hugh Shine and State Rep. Brad Buckley.
Bell County Sheriff Eddy Lange headed up the parade, followed by the Bell County Sheriff’s Posse bearing the U.S. and Texas flags. There followed the 1st Cavalry Division mounted color guard and the 1st Cavalry Division marching band.
Belton High School Cheer rode on a Belton fire engine. Roscoe Harrison Jr., the parade grand marshal, and other dignitaries followed. When J.C. Alston, 98, a Pearl Harbor survivor, passed, the crowd stood and cheered.
It was the first Fourth of July parade for the Lake Belton High School cheerleaders, and they also drew applause. They were followed by the Lake Belton High School Stampede Band.
Harker Heights and Copperas Cove had entries in the parade.
After the parade ended, a lot of the onlookers walked across the bridge to Yettie Polk Park for the Festival on Nolan Creek. Among its many other attractions, this year’s festival included a very popular farmer’s market.
One of the stops was Mac’s Brittle, operated by Warren MacNelly and family of Belton. He said they make 41 flavors of peanut brittle, but only had 13 at the festival. A few examples were sunflower, pumpkin and pistachio.
“I’m the fourth generation of my family with these recipes,” he said.
The family used to make the candy and give it away at Christmas, he said.
“I started the business in 2015 in the Rio Grande Valley. We moved up here a year and a half ago. We’re surviving. There’s hardly anybody doing as many varieties as I do.”
Mary Lou, his wife, said that when they started the business, her condition was that the brittle would be as thin as possible “so it was easy to eat.”
Her favorite varieties are usually coffee, cashew or watermelon, she said.