Forty years ago we celebrated our nation’s birthday in Alaska. It was the Bicentennial, our 200th birthday. From the start we were heavily involved with the celebration as I was a member of both the Anchorage Bicentennial commission and the Elmendorf base celebration.
We began the special year by flying the Bicentennial and American flags from our house every day. The picture at the right shows our house on January 1, 1976 at about 2 p.m. with the two flags flying our front.
By summer we had added a red. white, and blue parachute hanging from the eves of the house. I had picked this up in Thailand, and we had it all our time in Alaska, but it disappeared when we moved to Colorado.
Alaska in the early 1970s was more like the America of the 1950s. There was not the hostility to the military that was evidenced in so many places during the Vietnam War. Elmendorf and Ft Richardson were two major bases in Anchorage and provided a great deal of employment and support for the local economy. The oil pipeline boom had only started when we arrived in 1974 and by 1976 was just beginning to be felt in many parts of the state. Thus the US government, through its bases in Anchorage and Fairbanks, was one of the largest sources of revenue for the state and its citizens.
That said, the Bicentennial parade had a very old fashioned American feel, almost as if is were from about 1940. There were kids on bicycles, the band from the the base, several floats on flat beds, and folks dressed in colonial outfits — somewhat of an anomaly since Alaska was part of Russia two hundred years earlier.
The year ended with a special performance by the Thunderbirds. Since I flew the F4, it was great to witness some really close formation flying. This was something we did in the F4 at about two or three wingspans away from each other, not about 2 feet.
We always had amazing gardens in Alaska. The sun was up nearly 21 hours in the summer and plants thrived. That year I decided to do an all red, white, and blue display. Our neighbors called us the “Disneyland of the North,” for our elaborate flower beds.
Of course, it being Alaska there was always a special twist to it. For example, the fireworks could not be set off until about 12:30 at night as it simply was not dark enough until then to see them. In the summer, the sun routinely rose about 3:30 and set about 11 p.m.
The Bicentennial really was a respite for all of us who had been through so much during the long nightmare of the Vietnam War, it provided that moment of pride to Americans all over and allowed them to finally celebrate all that was good in our national life.
All in all, it was a special time of promise in a decade that was marked with many difficulties. This picture of our friend’s son captured the feeling of the day best:
“Happy Birthday America!”