Grand Forks is rolling out the red, white and blue carpet this weekend with events to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the founding of the American Legion.
Between 3,000 and 4,000 people may be participating in “Patriotism in the Park” activities taking place Saturday at Gambucci Arena, the Alerus Center and Kraft Field, said Dennis Almer, Legionnaire and one of the event planners.
The events are taking place in connection with the North Dakota American Legion convention being held Thursday through Sunday at the Alerus Center. About 400 people are expected to attend the convention, Almer said.
Opening ceremonies for “Patriotism in the Park” are set for 9 a.m. Saturday at Williamson Park, east of Gambucci Arena, 1122 Seventh Ave. S., followed by a parade which starts at Lincoln Park Drive and zigzags north and west through the city’s southside neighborhood on its way to Williamson Park.
The Grand Forks American Legion Post 6 and the Grand Forks Park District are coordinating the activities.
Dignitaries who are expected to participate in the event include Rep. Kelly Armstrong, R-N.D., and staff members from the offices of North Dakota senators John Hoeven and Kevin Cramer, reading messages from the senators; Bill Oxford, leading candidate for the role of national commander of the American Legion; Lt. Colonel Matthew Carman, battalion commander of the 1-188th Air Defense Artillery; and Col. Cameron Pringle, who assumes command of Grand Forks Air Force Base on Friday.
The Grand Forks Air Force Base Color Guard will present the colors at opening ceremonies and will lead the parade, said Bob Greene, commander for Grand Forks American Legion Post 6.
The North Dakota American Legion Band and the Heartland String Quartet will be performing.
All venues and games are free and open to the public.
Prior to the 9 a.m. opening ceremonies, walkers, who will assemble at Ninth Street South and Seven Avenue and walk to Williamson Park, will include veterans, members of the American Legion, Sons of Legionnaires and the American Legion Auxiliary and baseball players who will be competing in the games from noon to 5 p.m. at Kraft Field in Grand Forks.
There likely will be a tribute to the seven American Legion motorcyclists, all Marine veterans, who were killed in a vehicular accident on Friday in New Hampshire, according to Almer.
The group, called “Jarheads,” included members from Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont who were headed to a fundraising event in Gorham, N.H., Almer said.
An American Legion-sponsored baseball tournament will take place in the afternoon at Apollo Park. The first game features the Langdon Red Sox and Oaks Been-Goodwin Post 36 teams. The second game is between the LaMoure Post 19 and Grand Forks Blues teams.
A movie, “Operation Dumbo Drop,” begins at 6 p.m. at Gambucci Arena.
An exhibit of vintage cars and World War II military jeeps and trucks will be on display in the parking lot south of Purpur Arena. The vintage car show will include a 1912 Model T Ford and a 1983 Bentley.
A “tent city,” including military vehicles, an emergency response vehicle staffed by Altru Health System, a response vehicle from the Grand Forks Air Force Base’s Disaster Relief unit, food vendor and bouncy houses, will be set up on the east and north sides of Gambucci Arena.
Displays are open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Dietrich Bus Service, an event sponsor, will provide transportation, at 20-minute intervals, between Kraft Field, Gambucci Arena and the Alerus Center all day, beginning at 7:30 a.m. Saturday.
Inside the Gambucci Arena, 40 booths will be set up to provide information by local civic organizations dedicated to promoting veterans affairs, national security, Americanism and youth programs, Greene said.
Among those will be a booth where bricks, to be inscribed with the name of a loved one, will be sold. The bricks will be part of a display at the Veterans Memorial Park which is in development near the intersection of 24th Avenue and 34th Street. All five branches of the U.S. military -- Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force and Coast Guard -- will be commemorated there.
The memorial park is expected to be completed this fall; the sale of memorial bricks will be ongoing.
“We’re still working on securing an aircraft and a tank” to accompany the anchor, a tribute to the U.S. Navy, that already graces the site, Greene said.
Year of planning
Planning for this weekend’s events, including the American Legion’s centennial celebration, started nearly a year ago, according to Greene.
The American Legion was founded nationally, and in Grand Forks, in 1919, after being organized in spring 1919 by homesick American soldiers, members of the First Expeditionary Force in Paris, near the close of World War I in Europe.
Locally, membership in the Grand Forks American Legion Post 6 has grown in recent years to about 460, Greene said.
“We have a very active post in Grand Forks," he said.
The purpose of the American Legion is to provide an outlet for military personnel readjusting to civilian life and to socialize with other veterans, perform charity work and continue to serve their communities through volunteer activities, such as baseball tournaments and at Memorial Day and Veterans Day ceremonies.
Coordinated by the American Legion and the Grand Forks Park District, Saturday’s celebration is meant to be a community celebration, Greene said.
“We want to strengthen families and build communities,” he said. “We want to recognize the strong patriotism that the community of Grand Forks and the state of North Dakota exhibits.”
IF YOU GO
Patriotism in the Park
What: Celebrating the 100th anniversary of the founding of the American Legion
9 a.m.: Opening ceremonies, followed by parade at Williamson Park, east of Gambucci Arena, 1122 Seventh Ave. S.
10 a.m. - 5 p.m. : Vendor show, entertainment, bouncy houses at Gambucci Arena
Noon - 5 p.m.: American Legion Baseball Games at Kraft Field
6 p.m.: Family-friendly movie, "Operation Dumbo Drop," offered at Gambucci Arena