This was another working Fourth of July for Evelyn Moody, who has spent most holidays since she was 16 either twirling a baton or directing a West Baltimore marching band. The difference this time was that she was troubled by the memory of soldiers who didn't come back from the Persian Gulf war.
"You think about the soldiers who died and are never going to see this kind of thing again," she said, as her band, the Charm City Challengers, marched along the avenues of Fort Meade yesterday, past many soldiers who had returned from that war.
Moody started out as a majorette, then directed the Firebirds, a West Baltimore band that disbanded in 1984. In the brief hiatus before starting the Charm City Challengers two years ago -- drawing some of its members from among the children of old Firebirds colleagues -- Moody said, she found herself at loose ends on each Fourth, "sort of hanging around looking for someplace to go."
At Fort Meade, she was part of the main attraction in a parade again. The joy of it took her back to Fourth of July holidays when her band would march in two parades, and back to the early 1970s, she said, when the Firebirds were the first black marching band to win the band competition, among mostly white contestants, in Towson's Fourth of July parade.
Despite her misgivings about the war, Moody could still say of her country, "I'd rather be here than anywhere else."
Her charges, urged on by their thunderous drum corps, marched and swayed in rhythm past Air Force Staff Sgt. Edward Warfield, who was glad to be home after riding at the back of a C-130 on intelligence flight missions during Operation Desert Storm. This year, he said, "It's a little different after being over there and flying. Makes you appreciate [the country] a little more."
And when he has left Fort Meade to visit his hometown of !B Danville, Pa., he has noticed that townsfolk appreciate him more since the war. People who might otherwise have ignored him approached to say, "Thanks for being over there," and bought him a beer, he recalled.
Happy to be home for the Fourth of July, Warfield was almost relieved that he had a chance to be part of the war, to apply what he had been training to do for 10 years in the Air Force.
"Some guys who didn't go over are really upset," he said.
One of them, Staff Sgt. Tim White, said that when he stayed behind in his supply job at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia, "I kind of felt like I missed out on doing my part." And yet, he said, with a wife and two young children, "I'm kind of glad I didn't go."
After passing White and his family, the marching band, Boy Scout troops and the Oriole bird -- who waved from an open car-- all turned and ended their march near the Army parade grounds, where bicycle races were about to begin.
Under the brooding, overcast skies, the crowd was sparse. Most who turned out were not wearing olive drab, but red, white and blue American flag designs.
Cathy Reda, from Finksburg in Carroll County, bought impressionistic style flag shirts for herself and her two boys just for yesterday's occasion. She had always been a celebrant of the the Fourth of July, but this one, she said, "makes you feel a little more patriotic since the war and all."