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Patriotic citizens march down China Lake Boulevard during last year’s Parade of 1000 Flags. / Laura Austin Photo

9-11 Parade of 1000 Flags set for Saturday, September 9

By LAURA QUEZADA News Review Staff Writer–    The streets of Ridgecrest will be filled with unity and patriotism as 1,000 flags are marched down China Lake Boulevard to Freedom Park starting at 9 a.m. Dignitaries will be in attendance to participate in this community event. Some will greet the community during a ceremony after the parade; others will ride in vehicles in the parade. Since around March, individuals from numerous organizations have been working together to make this happen.

The parade is significant and says a lot about the heart of Ridgecrest. “This is a memorial event,” says Scott O’Neil, Executive Director of the Indian Wells Valley Economic Development Corporation (IWVEDC). “It is to recognize the fallen from 9-11 and continuously or annually thank our first responders for all the service they provide our communities. That is the primary purpose.

“We try very hard not to let the event become a political event. We want to be politically agnostic. We want to spend our time as a community in unity, thanking our first responders and other members of the armed forces who provide security and safety services. We also endeavor to remember those who fell in the deadly attack on our country in 2001. That’s the purpose. That’s what we strive for to make it so that it is a unity or community unifying event that shows respect.”

When the parade reaches Freedom Park, the flags are planted and will remain for a week. O’Neil says, “I always find it very heartwarming when I go down there in the evening and early in the morning to turn on the lights and the turn off the lights. It seems that no matter what hour of the day, there are people in the field walking and having some quiet time or sitting on the ground next to a flag where they’ve got a picture of a family member or a loved one. They’re just spending some time reflecting. It’s amazing to me the number of people who get out and take pictures of the field and just find some peaceful time to reflect and show their respect for loved ones who have died or to just think about how fortunate we are to be living in this country.”

 The profoundly moving Candlelight Vigil will be held on September 11 at Freedom Park.   / Laura Austin Photo

On Monday, September 11, a Candlelight Vigil begins at dusk, around 7:00 p.m., with the Bell Ceremony and the Fireman’s Prayer, led by Kern County Firefighter Captain Andrew Freeborn. The China Lake Color Guard will present colors. Following the ceremonial traditions, the firefighters exit the dais while the bagpipes play Amazing Grace. Then, all attendees light their candles.

Before it became a parade, the remembrance featured a Field of 1,000 Flags started by the Exchange Club in 2005. Pat Farris, Publisher of The News Review, recalls, “They posted the flags but people didn’t realize they were there and it wasn’t getting the anticipated community participation. I thought, ‘If we can get 1,000 people to carry flags, there would be 1,000 people who knew about the remembrance field.’ That seemed like a sizeable task, but I thought if we could get one hundred people to sponsor rows of ten, that would be 1,000.” Putting her organizational skills to work, Farris obtained the volunteers needed to make this vision a reality.

In 2021, when the Exchange Club knew they would not be able to sponsor due to their disbanding, they reached out to the IWVEDC, and without hesitation, they stepped up and took over the coordination of the event in partnership with The News Review. “We thought it was a significant event for the community and so we decided we should not let it die,” says O’Neil.

Other organizations deeply involved in the planning and execution of the parade include China Lake Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division (NAWCWD), Ridgecrest Chamber of Commerce, Operation Family Fund, and China Lake Alliance. Financial donations have been provided by NDTI Corporation, The Swap Sheet, Alta One Credit Union, Bernie’s Landscaping, Operation Family Fund, Ridgecrest Area Association of Realtors, and The Daily Independent. Mather Bros is donating water; the City of Ridgecrest provides traffic, safety, bus, and planning services.

Farris says, “Our town will be dressed in red, white, and blue and we will wave our flags in honor as a tribute to our belief and our values of God and country. If anyone wants to be a flag bearer and they are not called with another group, please call the News Review at 760-371-3740.”