In her eighth go-around, Carol Johnson pulled off the annual city of Pacific fireworks show in the city park July 14, with a sentimental and patriotic tribute to military men who have been killed in action in every war from World War I to present hostilities, and still offered family fare such as cotton-candy-sweet as red, white and blue bunting, balloons and beads, and free flags for children to wave.
Carol was an omnipresent figure in town in the weeks leading up to the rescheduled event, describing herself as “a mess” as the show kept dwindling and expanding. No sooner did one promised vendor withdraw than a new one popped up.
To make matters worse, she lost the small envelope-size ring binder where she had scribbled the names and phone numbers of all the participants. After searches all over town, the notebook never turned up, but her memory and her loyal contacts held firm.
Planning for the 2012 fireworks show was a whirlwind of emotions as she put together 15 to 20 participants in her family carnival in the park as the weather got hotter and hotter and finally it was she who said the July 1 show needed to be called off.
Then she watched as other cities canceled their fireworks all together, but when push came to shove, she had collected money to have a fireworks show and she decided to go forward once Fire Marshal Ken Prichard said he thought it would be OK.
You might think she gets overly involved in some activities and you’d be right but I have to tell you . . . she overdoes everything and that’s the secret to her success. From her granddaughter’s birthday dinner to a grownup Halloween costume for Spookfest to saying “thank you” or complaining five times when once would do, her mind keeps telling her there is one more element she can add.
Her obsessive need to pay tribute to fallen soldiers could be attributed to several years of personal fears as her son-in-law Sean Walters served two tours as a Seabee constructing buildings in Afghanistan. He’s home now, finished his last tour, but her heart still goes out to the families who have sons serving in foreign lands and those who have lost soldiers. She can name all the ones in and near Pacific that happened in her lifetime.
I’ve written many times about when Carol brought Gov. Bob Holden to Pacific on Cruise Night — during an election year — and he stepped out of his limousine on St. Louis Street into a sea of smiling faces. I’ve speculated on how he must have felt. I think I had a similar experience when I walked into the park at 5 p.m. last Saturday afternoon and it really did look like the carnival she had kept talking about. Red, white and blue was everywhere, bunting hanging on the fence at the park entry. The Pacific Fire District’s giant flag was high above the trucks and officers at the end of the park.
I especially liked the balloon artist who twisted long skinny balloons that she filled from a standing tank into bumblebees, flower blossom bracelets, snakes and swords. They were free and children could choose which they wanted — and what color flower for that matter. She worked in front of a large banner that said “Starburst the Balloon Artist,” but as it turned out her name was Erica Smith. Starburst, who had been available for the July 1 celebration was double booked on July 14 so Smith was corralled to fill in for her.
“I’m just doing my bit,” Smith said in her best carnival booth smile.
Carol had collected so many prizes that every vendor and parade walker got one.
On Sunday morning she was still all a bubble, recounting the style with which Alderman Jerry Eversmeyer paced himself through the entire salute to veterans program.
“He never rushed,” she said. “He invited all the veterans in the audience to come up on the stage, then after the veterans were on the stage, he invited all the veterans’ family members to come up and join us.”
DJ Ken Scott played a patriotic song, which was Eversmeyer’s cue to lead the Pledge of Allegiance. Pastor Jack Bone offered a prayer, Rae McElliott sang “God Bless America” and the national anthem.
Then Eversmeyer read the names of each of the fallen soldiers — Pacific men killed in action — whose names are engraved in granite on the American Legion Auxiliary soldier’s memorial at Second and Union streets. He asked any family member of the fallen who was present to come up and accept a certificate.
Closing out that tribute was Gail Mefford, America Legion Auxiliary Unit 297, Union, who played taps, which was followed by three quick bursts of fireworks.
“That part was pretty touching,” Carol said, “and the way each participant did their part without asking any recognition for themselves.”
The long-awaited fireworks exhibit started at exactly 9:30 p.m. and ended at 9:50 p.m.
All in all it was a Carol Johnson kind of day.
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