Yesterday, along the main streets of dozens of Maryland towns, the people said "Happy birthday" to their country, and "Welcome home" to their returning soldiers.
Crowds cheered passing parades in Towson and Catonsville and Dundalk and wore patriotic colors in Ocean City and Columbia. They staked out spots for watching fireworks in parks and back yards and on rooftops from the Atlantic shoreline to the Allegheny mountains.
Last night, more than 200,000 gathered at Baltimore's Inner Harbor, as scores of cars stopped along the Jones Falls Expressway, to watch a spectacular fireworks display as the day of celebration drew to a close.
Many people said the Persian Gulf war had renewed a sense of American patriotism that in the past two decades has been battered by a slipping U.S. economy, government scandals and social problems that seem to defy solutions.
On this Fourth of July, they seemed to wave the flag a little harder and yell a little louder.
"For my generation, growing up in the Watergate years, there was little faith in the government," said Tim Meagher, 35, of Laurel, who attended a celebration at Fort Meade with his wife and his son, Brian, who was clad in a Desert Storm T-shirt. "Among those people, there seems to be a renewal of patriotic feelings."
In Towson, the 41st Annual Towson Fourth of July Parade snaked up York Road, west on Pennsylvania Avenue and then around the Baltimore County courthouse.
Abe Lincoln and George Washington waved from floats they shared with ersatz Persian Gulf war commanders. But the thousands of children who lined the route -- brought to the parade by long-suffering parents -- saved their biggest cheers for Raphael the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle, who arrived in a red convertible, and Alvin and the Chipmunks.
Football hero Art Donovan and the Baltimore Colts Marching Band brought cheers from many adults.
Robert Perdue, 27, of Baltimore, brought a shopping cart full of souvenirs to sell at the Towson parade, as he has in past years. "We did a little slower than usual on flags," he said.
Another man hawked white T-shirts with an American flag and the word VICTORY on them: "Just $8," he said, "a steal." Finding no takers, he darted to work the crowd across Washington Avenue.
At the shore, more than 300,000 people were expected to pour into Ocean City this weekend to take part in the birthday party.
Ann Beck of Columbia staked out a spot on the beach by early afternoon. Prepared with cooler, sunglasses and paperback, she spread her blanket at location perfect for viewing the oceanfront fireworks display. No matter that it was only 1:30 p.m. and the nTC show wouldn't start until sundown.
"We're near the stage, the bathrooms and easy access to the boardwalk," said Ms. Beck, who is vacationing all week in Ocean City.
"We're celebrating because it's the country's birthday," explained her daughter Kimberly, 7, turning cartwheels under the overcast skies.
To help spread out the crowd, Ocean City officials planned festivities at both ends of the 10-mile-long town. Near the boardwalk on the town's south end, the city offered a free concert by the Zim Zemarel Orchestra, a ceremony by Mayor Roland "Fish" Powell honoring seven municipal employees who served in the gulf war with their military reserve units, and fireworks over the ocean. At the Northside Park, there was an all-day, family-oriented jamboree with food, music, children's games and fireworks over the bay.
Back in Baltimore, the Navy destroyer USS Connolly and the USS Pensacola welcomed several hundred visitors at Pier 3 on Locust Point. The ships, which served in the Persian Gulf, will be open again from 1 to 4 p.m. tomorrow and Sunday.
Lt. Darrel W. Draper, the Pensacola's command duty officer, said some pen pals of the 335-man crew had driven from Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Virginia yesterday to tour the ship and to meet the men with whom they've been corresponding.
But the ship arrived without much fanfare, and Lieutenant Draper agreed when asked about reports that some of the crew were disappointed.
"I guess typically when we pull in for a port visit, we see a little bit more of a throng on the pier," Lieutenant Draper said. "But we are enjoying Baltimore and especially the Inner Harbor."
For 22 foreign-born children and one adult, July 4, 1991, will have a particularly special meaning. In a special ceremony held on the Constellation in the Inner Harbor, they took the oath of allegiance to become American citizens.
Lynn Kelly, an immigration examiner for the Baltimore office of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, said this was the first time the branch had given the swearing-in ceremony on the Fourth of July.
Dotsie Bregel, 33, of Towson, has two adopted children from South Korea, including Jessica, 3, who was naturalized yesterday. "We figured that since they were already living here, we might as well do it."