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1976 Bicentennial Celebration

By George Idelson

In the Winter of 1976, America was still hurting from the wounds of the Viet Nam War. Officially it was over. The boys had come home. Not to ticker tape, but to tortured second-guessing. Those who had avoided the war, fared little better. In truth, we were still at war… with ourselves.

But the chill of Winter yielded to the winds of March and the warm promise of Spring. July 4, 1976 in the Nation's Capital was a clear, sunny day. The year of the Bicentennial, the two-hundredth anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, had already begun. But this was to be the day of days, the moment to inhale the joy of being an American, and let it all out in a great display of fireworks.

As they have so many times before, they converged on the National Mall to celebrate. It was still light as they lined the banks of the Reflecting Pool and the Rainbow Pool from the Lincoln Memorial to the Washington Monument. There were no speeches. No music. Just people, thousands of people, enjoying themselves and each other, basking in the sun and a glow of unspoken pride and patriotism. You could feel it. You really could. And when darkness arrived, and the fireworks began, it seemed as though this joyous burst of streamers, stars and explosions were the last gasps of the bitterness that divided us.

In truth it didn't all end that day. But something remarkable happened. We were family again. We could find ways to forgive, if not to forget. The poignant Viet Nam Memorial that came later helped. It too is on the Mall, a place so special in our history that it should be cherished and protected and kept open so that whenever the need arises, Americans can come together as one.

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Great Moments on the Mall

• Marian Anderson, 1939
• The March On Washington
• Vietnam Veterans Against the War
• AIDS Quilt
• Million Man March
• Million Mom March

Personal Great Moments
• Charles I. Cassell
• George Idelson
• Virginia Mondale
• Laura Richards

• Share your Great Moment on the Mall


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