Last Modified: Saturday, July 05, 2014 3:45 PM
WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama says the extraordinary sacrifices by U.S. service members are keeping America safe and free.
And he says there’s no other group of people that he and first lady Michelle Obama would rather spend time with on the Fourth of July than America’s men and women in uniform.
Obama addressed a crowd of hundreds of military families gathered Friday on the White House South Lawn for an all-American barbecue and concert sponsored by the USO. Music was provided by the rapper Pitbull. The families also got to see the fireworks on the National Mall.
Obama noted that July Fourth is always a special day for his family for reasons apart from the nation’s founding. It’s the birthday of his older daughter, Malia. She turned 16.
Around the nation, the United States marked 238 years as an independent nation as it celebrated the Fourth of July with fireworks, food and music.
Nature and politics also played a role this year, with Hurricane Arthur crashing holiday parties along the East Coast and subdued festivities in Moscow amid growing anti-American sentiment over the crisis in Ukraine.
Here are some highlights of Independence Day celebrations across the globe:
Fire in the sky
The Macy’s Fourth of July fireworks show in New York City is the nation’s largest. Macy’s said more than 1,600 shells were launched per minute during the 25-minute display over the East River.
A high rip current, though, forced Macy’s to shift the fireworks display slightly. All three fireworks barges were positioned south of the Brooklyn Bridge. Organizers had planned to anchor one farther north, between the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges.
Among the celebrities performing at the event were the Zac Brown Band, Enrique Iglesias and Ariana Grande. Other major fireworks shows were held in Chicago on Lake Michigan and in San Francisco over the bay.
The first hurricane of the season, Arthur, forced many East Coast cities to switch the dates of their Fourth of July celebrations. Boston officials moved the annual Boston Pops July 4 concert and fireworks from Friday to Thursday. Then they cut short the concerts so the fireworks could begin. Shortly after the dazzling display thundered to a close, a drenching rain began falling. Meanwhile, several cities in Maine, New Hampshire and New Jersey moved their fireworks shows to either Saturday or Sunday. Augusta, Maine, moved its fireworks to Aug. 2.
When it crossed North Carolina’s Outer Banks late Thursday, Arthur narrowly missed becoming the first hurricane to make landfall on July Fourth, according to National Hurricane Center research that dates to the 1850s.
In Phoenix, the first dust storm of the summer arrived with blinding winds that forced the cancellation of holiday plans, knocked out power and grounded flights.
In Washington, composer John Williams debuted a new arrangement of “The Star-Spangled Banner” featuring choirs, trumpets, an orchestra and cannons on the National Mall.
This year marks the 200th anniversary of the national anthem. Francis Scott Key was inspired by the sight of the flag over Baltimore’s Fort McHenry in September 1814 after a 25-hour British bombardment.
Thousands of people celebrated the Fourth in the nation’s capital under clear skies, despite initial fears rain could ruin their fun. Visitors to the Mall gazed at the White House and the Washington Monument and strolled through the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, which featured food, music and cultural demonstrations.
Vice President Joe Biden, addressing the annual “Celebration of Freedom” ceremony at Independence Hall, said the lessons of the civil rights movement show that the struggle for freedom that began in Philadelphia more than two centuries ago is not over.
Ex-pats in Canada
Julie Buchanan, treasurer of Democrats Abroad, planned to celebrate at a Toronto bar with red, white and blue sparklers, about 125 of her American ex-pat friends, and life-size cut-outs of President Barack Obama and the first lady.
“We really miss the patriotism of America; so many of us crave that sense of pride and camaraderie from back home,” said Buchanan, an Alabama native who moved to Toronto from Memphis, Tennessee, in 2000.
The national anthems of both Russia and the United States played at the traditional July 4 garden party held at the stately residence of the American ambassador in Moscow. But far fewer Russians than usual came, either because they were unwilling to be seen associating with American diplomats or because their anti-American statements had gotten them scratched off of the guest list.
The other big Independence Day party in Moscow, organized by the American Chamber of Commerce, takes place Sunday and, in a break from tradition, is being held at a private golf and polo club instead of a city park. Security appears to have been a concern for the change.