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Fans of freedom come out in Hobart

Military veterans, families and children gathered handfuls of candy, sported smiles and decked out in red, white and blue along Main Street in Hobart for the Celebration of Freedom Parade on Saturday morning. 

The parade was one of many festivities that took place during the ninth annual Celebration of Freedom, a two-day event hosted by the Kiowa County community and the General Tommy Franks Leadership Institute Museum.

The excitement began on Friday with a silent auction at the Stanley Building and tours of General Tommy Franks Leadership Institute Museum.

Saturday welcomed a fly-in at the airport, the parade and a shine motorcycle show, followed by live music, carnival games and various vendors.

Kristen Holley, parade coordinator and artifacts collection manager at the museum, said between 800 and 1,500 people attend the celebration each year, and they pause to remember, honor and thank fallen heroes.

"The freedom we have today is because of the people who have fought for us in the past and are still fighting for us today," Holley said.

The parade showcased veterans, the 77th Army Band from Fort Sill, Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4415, antique cars and tractors, gators, motorcycles and horses.

While collecting candy and waving, parade-goers could hear the song "God Bless the USA" by Lee Greenwood playing from speakers hitched on a golf cart rolling down the street.

Sheila Hebensberger, a Hobart local, has been attending the parade with her sister, Donna Rogers, for the past eight years.

Hebensberger said her uncles and one grandfather fought in World War I, World War II and the Korean War, and another ancestor gave his life in battle during the Civil War.

Rogers remains tied to the military today; her son served as an Army Ranger at Fort Benning, Ga., before working for the National Guard in that state.

The sisters' mother, who passed away in August 2016, enjoyed coming to the parade every year, so they both wore her patriotic shirts in memory of her. 

"She was 92 years old," Rogers said. "We had her in her wheelchair (last year). She wasn't able to go do everything, but we took her to as much as we could."

Veteran Michael Arite has been supporting fellow veterans at the parade since the first-ever Celebration of Freedom. 

Arite was stationed at Fort Sill for field artillery, and he served during the Bosnian War. After four years in service, he was medically retired after two injuries on active duty.

He said his favorite festivity at Celebration of Freedom is the parade because it renders recognition to "those who didn't come back." 

"Ultimately, it's to honor anyone and everyone who served and put their life on the line for the country," he said, "... to defend and to protect us from all the enemies that we have, foreign and domestic."

Veteran Daniel Mann, who served as a communication specialist at Fort Sill, recently moved to Hobart, and when he initially heard about the parade, he said, "I have to go."

As a first-timer this year, he said he enjoyed "everything: the flags, the patriotism, the people."

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