From sea to shining sea, in small towns and big cities alike, Americans came together Thursday to celebrate their first Independence Day since last September's terrorist attacks. With patriotic music in their ears and fireworks overhead, hundreds of thousands of Americans came to the National Mall in Washington to mark the 4th of July.
Two thousand police officers were on hand amid ongoing fears of terrorism. But most of the crowd seemed eager to put those thoughts aside for the evening and enjoy the music.
Dennis Stroud said he was determined to attend what he called the most important Fourth of July celebration of his lifetime:
"Well, what is special about this Fourth of July is, I think, we have to make a statement in this country that we will not be intimidated by terrorists and so I am here to make that statement along with my friend."
Liz Walker and her husband Charlie came all the way from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, to watch the fireworks and did not mind the long wait to get through a security checkpoint. "It is just wonderful that everybody's fears obviously have been unfounded because everything has been just fabulous," she said. "The people have been fabulous, the food has been fabulous, the weather is hot, but that's okay. I don't think it deterred anybody from coming out."
Elsewhere around the country, it was a special day for 500 new Americans who became citizens in a special ceremony at Disney World in Florida.
The same was true for a much smaller group who took their citizenship oaths in Washington.
President Bush says the country is more unified than ever as it celebrates its 226th birthday. He paid tribute to U.S. military veterans during a speech in the small town of Ripley, West Virginia. "We love our country only more when she's threatened."
There were other reminders that this was no ordinary Fourth of July. Combat jet patrols were temporarily reactivated over Washington and New York and flight restrictions were in effect over such national landmarks as the Statue of Liberty in New York, the Gateway Arch in St. Louis and Mount Rushmore in South Dakota.