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Fourth of July Celebrations Draw Families, Troops and Presidential Hopefuls

July 4, 2011 at 12:00 AM EST
Americans at home and abroad celebrated Independence Day with parades, barbeques, and fireworks. Judy Woodruff reports on how Americans celebrated Independence Day here and abroad.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: The United States marked its birthday today, the 235th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, with parades and fireworks, plus competitive eating, presidential campaigning, and a new teenager at the White House.

The party started late last night, midnight, to be exact, in Gatlinburg, Tenn. The tiny mountain town kicked off the Fourth of July in classic fashion, with banners, music, and plenty of kids up past their bedtime.

Today, in cities across the country, preparations were under way for a robust celebration, unpacking fireworks and prepping the stages.

MAN: Our Independence Day host: Jimmy Smits.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Rehearsals in the nation’s capital began yesterday with a run-through of tonight’s festivities on the Mall.

STEVE MARTIN, actor/performer: One, two, three, four.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Celebrities hit the stage to polish their performances.

STEVE MARTIN: It has been a longtime dream of mine to play bluegrass on the Capitol steps on the Fourth of July, and, tonight, I feel I am one step closer to that dream.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Tourists poured into Washington this weekend, excited to see the show.

GEORGE MENDITA, Washington, D.C.: To not go to the concert on the Fourth of July in the Capitol, I mean, you would have to be insane not to do that, so absolutely.

JOANNA DELAROSARIO, Washington, D.C.: We have heard a lot of good stuff about it. It’s fun. It’s exciting. It’s new for me and my family. Never been here.

JUDY WOODRUFF: At the White House, crews worked to clean up last night’s storm damage, preparing the grounds for a barbecue and concert for military families, a celebration coinciding with first daughter Malia’s 13th birthday.

And at Monticello, the Virginia home of founding father Thomas Jefferson, 77 immigrants from 44 countries were sworn in as American citizens — 3,000 spectators were on hand at the ceremony.

MARY GRACE, Virginia: My hope is that we, as Americans, can embrace our immigrant bothers and sisters who come in and just show them the best that is America.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Summer travelers also flocked to Philadelphia, where the Declaration of Independence was signed.

Cindy Richter from Kentucky was there with her family.

CINDY RICHTER, resident of Kentucky: Oh, it’s phenomenal that they can have an appreciation for where it all began and where our country began.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, in New York, contestants faced off in Nathan’s 96th annual Fourth of July Hot Dog Eating Contest, adding some pink to the red, white, and blue.

In the Big Apple and elsewhere, the day will end with the usual bursts of color lighting the night sky, a once-a-year moment cherished by millions. But, in some places, this year, the sky will be silent. Raging wildfires and dry weather in Arizona, New Mexico and Texas have forced authorities to cancel Fourth of July fireworks in certain areas.

WOMAN: A lot of people are going to be really, I mean, disappointed.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The patriotic spirit isn’t felt only in the United States. These U.S. soldiers stationed in southeastern Afghanistan held a flag-raising ceremony to commemorate the Fourth. And at Kandahar Airfield Gen. David Petraeus spent his last Independence Day as commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan with the troops.

Petraeus, set to take up his new job as CIA director later this year, today administered the oath of reenlistment to 235 service members.

SOLDIER: You can really feel the honor, especially when you get a general like Gen. Petraeus to come down and do it for us. It makes it really feel a lot more important to me. It will be nice being able to call home and tell my mom to check it out on TV and be able to tell my family that I got to do this.

SOLDIER: It’s just an honor. It’s an honor to serve our country.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Back in the U.S., presidential candidates are capitalizing on the swell of patriotic spirit.

MAN: Happy birthday, America!

(CHEERING)

JUDY WOODRUFF: Both former Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman were in Amherst, N.H., at a July Fourth parade, trying to connect with voters.

Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann was at a Clear Lake, Iowa, parade today, as was former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, while former Sen. Rick Santorum headed to two similar events in that state. And former Godfather’s Pizza CEO Herman Cain, who was in Iowa yesterday, is starting his holiday off at Independence Hall in Philadelphia, later traveling to New Hampshire.