Terry Gentry, left, tries on a pilot's helmet with some… (MATT BUTTON | AEGIS STAFF,…)
It was a beautiful Saturday — crisp but not cold and sunny with just enough breeze — to walk over the grounds of the Liriodendron Mansion in Bel Air and to pay homage to America's veterans and learn quite a lot about what it means to serve in defense of the nation.
The expectations for the final day of Bel Air's three-day Veterans Day celebration were largely fulfilled, the organizers of Saturday's events at Liriodendron said. The weather cooperated, all the exhibitors showed up and, most importantly, so did the community.
"We had a great turnout," Jim Reilly, Harford County's clerk of the Circuit Court and one of the organizers of Saturday's program, said, as he watched one of his grandsons climb through a Maryland National Guard Blackhawk helicopter that had landed on the northeast lawn of the mansion shortly before the grounds opened Saturday morning.
The Blackhawk's arrival, presence and departure were clearly among the highlights of Saturday's three-and-a-half hour program. The helicopter had drawn a constant stream of visitors of all ages since its arrival, Reilly said. When it took off shortly before 12:30, about 50 people stood at a safe distance to watch it depart, many of them shooting pictures with their cell phones.
"I think everything went well," Harford County Councilman Jim McMahan, who organized the event along with Reilly, said. "Of course, I always want more, but we had a good turnout, and I think everyone enjoyed themselves."
In addition to the helicopter, several military vehicles and examples of military equipment and uniforms were on display. There was a color guard and patriotic music. There was also a climbing wall and other activities for the youngsters.
Many older veterans milled around the grounds, wearing caps, jackets and other accouterments to signify their past service. The organizers had invited 20 VIP vets to be part of a brief ceremony, among them two who had served in World War II.
McMahan, an Army vet, said the many of the exhibits were geared toward children to give them a sense of what service to their country involves. He said Saturday was also an opportunity to showcase the historic Liriodendron Mansion, a popular place for weddings, parties and meetings that is operated by a community foundation.
McMahan also said they were close to breaking even on the cost of putting on Saturday's program. A significant portion of the financial support came from three local car dealerships, Adams Jeep of Maryland in Aberdeen, Boyle Buick GMC Truck in Abingdon and Plaza Ford in Fallston, McMahan said. Each exhibited new red, white and blue vehicles on the grounds.