Parachutists dropped from the sky with pinpoint accuracy, historic sailing ships fired a cannon salute, and thousands of people recited the 31 words of the Pledge of Allegiance at Fort McHenry last night -- along with countless other patriots around the nation.
The event marked the 12th annual nationwide "Pause for the Pledge of Allegiance" -- a Flag Day celebration bolstered this year by the U.S victory in the Persian Gulf.
"We feel this is important for the nation, not just for today, but year-round," said Richard Patterson, vice president of the National Flag Day Foundation, which sponsored the event. "It's a patriotic moment. It's 31 words that tell why we believe in America."
The event "gave us pause to stop taking our freedom for granted," said Debbie Hohlbein, 34, of Baltimore. "I like the patriotic music, and if it wasn't for this event, I'd never say the Pledge."
This year's celebration, capped by a fireworks display, held special significance in the wake of the Gulf War, Mr. Patterson said.
"The war may have caused more Americans to think about patriotism and what it means to be a citizen of this country," Mr. Patterson said. "Generally, Americans are patriotic, but I think the full flavor of it blossomed during Desert Storm. It's the whole 'new world order.' I think we're going to be a better nation."
Delores Brown, 65, of Baltimore, whose daughter is an Army officer who served six months in the gulf, said she was moved by the display last night. "Since the war just
ended, we really have something to be proud of," she said.
"We're patriots -- always have been. Every year, it's grown," said John Jackson, 65, who accompanied Ms. Brown.
The new surge of patriotism was evident in 50 students -- one from each state -- who were selected by to serve as "patriotic ambassadors" at Fort McHenry.
One of the students, Aaron Sanders, 17, of Englewood, Fla., said he had been "getting discouraged" because "there are so many people who don't love America."
But, he added, "This . . . has renewed my love for America. It made me so proud to be an American."
"They're talking about God and their country -- that's new," Mr. Patterson said of the students. "We're trying to pass the baton of patriotism on to the younger generation."