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Parris Island preparing for huge crowds, patriotic July 4th celebration

Cpl. Jason Blizzard, left, and Cpl. Ben Hallquis roll out a portable air conditioner in preparation for the the Fourth of July celebration on the Peatross Parade Deck of Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island on Saturday.
Cpl. Jason Blizzard, left, and Cpl. Ben Hallquis roll out a portable air conditioner in preparation for the the Fourth of July celebration on the Peatross Parade Deck of Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island on Saturday.

Officials at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island are busy this week preparing for the thousands expected to flock to the 94-year-old training ground Saturday for the base's annual free Fourth of July celebration.

Given that July 4 falls on a Saturday, organizers are bracing for a higher than average turnout, said Paul Smith, spokesman for Marine Corps Community Services.

"We had about 8,500 people come out last year, and with it being on a weekend, we're expecting even more people this year," Smith said. "We've planned more activities, brought in more bounce houses and we decided to open the gates at 4 p.m., which is an hour earlier than what we've done in the past."

Planning for the event -- sponsored and organized by Marine Corps Community Services -- began shortly after Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort's 2009 Air Show in early May, Smith said, and will have organizers working until the very last minute to ensure the show goes off without a hitch.Marine Corps Community Services serves Marines stationed at Parris Island and Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort and their families.

"We're starting to stage stuff today," Smith said Tuesday. "The trailers are coming in, the vendors are starting to show up with the water, vendors are delivering their goods but Friday will be our real work day. That's when we'll start setting up tents, table and chairs and the bounce houses will start going up, and then we'll receive the fireworks on Saturday."

Zambelli Fireworks Internationale of New Castle, Pa., is in the second year of a three-year, $45,000 contract with Marine Corps Community Services to provide the depot's July 4 fireworks.

With an anticipated heat index of over 100 degrees, Maj. Willie Stansell, the event's overall coordinator, said organizers will make sure the sweltering summer heat doesn't become a show-stopper.

"Everything is right on track right now and it should be a great show, as long as Mother Nature cooperates," Stansell said. "It looks like the heat index will be at about 100 degrees ... so about normal for this time of year. We'll have plenty of free food and water and medical tents. This is a great opportunity for us to showcase the depot, and thank the community for the support they demonstrate to us day in and day out."

While event organizers finalize last-minute details, one of the night's headliners -- the Parris Island band -- has been practicing since late May for itsthree-set performance Saturday.

"This is our biggest performance of the year," said Chief Warrant Officer Joshua Stone, band spokesman. "It really stretches our limits, and we have to make sure everything is on target. This isn't like other events where we just show up and play. For this event, we are the sponsors."

"This is a chance for us to show the community how appreciative we are for their support by saying, 'Come party with us on the 4th,'" he said.

Stone said the 50-member band will perform Top 40 hits, country songs, some patriotic marches and a special rendition ofTchaikovsky's "1812 Overture."

"The show will really culminate in a performance of the '1812 Overture' with live cannons and fireworks," Stone said. "We'll have Marines, guys from our band, on the cannon and I'll have an assistant on the radio coordinating with the fireworks guys. It may not synch up perfectly but it'll make the song feel more robust."

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