With the mercury hovering around 95 degrees, several hundred people gathered on the Mississippi River levee to watch three World War II-era airplanes stage a mock attack on the USS Kidd during the day’s “Star-Spangled Celebration” of Independence Day.
People eagerly scanning the sky for the start of the show saw two F-15 Eagle jets approaching from across the river before roaring above the Navy’s retired destroyer moored on the downtown Baton Rouge waterfront.
Several minutes later, three T-6 trainers, their engines a dull hum compared to the jets, approached the Kidd, which began firing back angrily, causing many of the kids in the audience to clutch at their ears.
“They’re blanks! They’re blanks!” shouted Anthony Antoine, 47, a warning to people in the crowd not to worry. “Smell that gunpowder!”
Cheryl Cummins, of Prairieville, peered up at the unfolding battle, eagerly snapping photos with her digital camera.
This was the first Fourth of July celebration in Baton Rouge for Cummins, 60, and her husband Phil, 61, who moved to the area last month from Midland, Mich.
The couple, originally from Philadelphia, said they decided to stay in the Sheraton downtown, eager to avoid the traffic following Saturday night’s fireworks display.
“We figure we had to do it once and do it right,” Cheryl Cummins said.
Maury Drummond, executive director of the USS Kidd Veterans Memorial & Museum, said the display was made possible by the Louisiana National Guard and Dan Fordyce, of Vicksburg, Miss.
“They’ve been so good to us every year,” Drummond said.
The T-6s were flown down from Mississippi earlier in the day and then waited at Baton Rouge Ryan Airport before taking off to perform in the mock battle, Drummond said.
Quite a few people could be seen milling around inside the museum Saturday, perhaps taking respite in the air conditioning from the day’s intense heat.
“It’s never been this hot,” Drummond said of the weather. “I’ve been producing a Fourth of July event for 24 years and it is absolutely brutal today.”
Drummond said he was grateful for everyone who came out despite the heat.
Earlier in the day, brothers Sean, 7, and Aaron, 10, Jameson munched on snowballs outside of the River Center. The boys and their parents crouched alongside an outside wall of the arena as they sought shelter from the noon sun.
They were among the first people down by the Mississippi river for Baton Rouge’s Star-Spangled Celebration.
As Sean ate his icy treat, a few drops of the blue snowball spilled onto his white T-shirt. Aaron showed off his green-tinged tongue as he laughed at his younger brother.
“The ice is melting before I eat it!” Sean pouted with his blue-stained lips.
The Jameson family, of Shreveport, were in Baton Rouge Saturday visiting relatives.
“We tried to get here early to beat the heat, but that didn’t happen,” said mother Laura Jameson, 39.
The all-day celebration started at 8 a.m. with Freedom Mile, a series of 1-mile races along River Road. The race was followed by tours of the USS Kidd.
As the day went on, more people showed up dressed in red, white and blue. Many of them found shady spots under trees or next to a building. Others laid out lawn chairs in the grassy area next to the USS Kidd and waited for the first live band to take the stage.
Young children found respite from the heat by splashing around in one of the area’s many fountains.
For Jeanie and Mitch Talbot, the celebration has become a Fourth of July tradition.
“We’ve been coming every year for about five years,” Mitch Talbot said. “We stay all day and wait for the fireworks.”
Hope everyone is out enjoying their independence today! It's great to be free!!!