Veterans Reflect on Importance, Beauty of Blue Angels

The crowd was restless for Fat Albert. It was just after 2 p.m. Wednesday and the sun was beating down on hundreds of people. Spider-man Popsicles melted in kids' hands and dogs hid under bushes for the shade. But with a sudden, thunder-like noise, the crowd perked up. Fat Albert came out of the corner of the sky and flew across the Severn River. "Mommy," one boy said as Fat Albert made its ascent into the sky, "Are they going to heaven?" The Blue Angels, the U.S. Navy's flight demonstration squadron, performed above the Severn River Wednesday afternoon. The flight team consists of six Navy F/A-18 Hornets and a C-130 Hercules, known as the "Fat Albert." U.S. Marine Corps Capt. Katie Higgins, of Severna Park, piloted the Fat Albert. Last year Higgins was the first female pilot to fly with the Blue Angels. While people watched all over Annapolis, hundreds gathered at the World War II Memorial to watch the Blue Angels flip, dive and accelerate in the air. The field in front of the memorial was packed with families and rainbow beach umbrellas. But for the veterans in attendance, the Blue Angels are much more than entertainment -- they represent the military's strength. Navy veteran Paul Jefferson, 72, camped out at the memorial with his family since 9:30 a.m to get a good view of the demonstration. Jefferson, who lives on the Eastern Shore, served in Vietnam from 1962-65 and 1968-1972, where he earned two Purple Hearts. Watching the Blue Angels is an "old habit," Jefferson said, since he and his wife live part-time in Pensacola, Florida, where the Blue Angels are based. And although the couple has seen the group perform dozens of times, Jefferson said he will never get tired of seeing Fat Albert in the sky. The tight formations and the trust the pilots have with one another is "patriotic," he added. "They are the definition of freedom when they fire up," Jefferson said. This year, Vice Adm. Ted Carter, superintendent of the Naval Academy, flew in the back seat of jet No. 5. He flew in support of Lt. Ryan Chamberlain, who piloted the "opposing solo jet." This was the first time a USNA superintendent has flown with the group. Watching the Blue Angels at the memorial felt like "right thing to do," said 20-year Navy veteran David Osband, who joined the military in 1972. The Arnold resident said the Blue Angels are a manifestation of the "extreme professionalism and pride" the military exudes. For Air Force veteran Steve Burton, 69, of Bowie, this was his first time seeing the Blue Angels fly overheard at the memorial. Burton served from 1965-1967 and said the pilots' technique serve as a reminder of the skill within all branches of the U.S. military. "It represents how well-trained our soldiers are, I don't care if it's flying a plane or driving a ship," he said. Burton recorded the show on his video camera. "It made me wish that I could go back in and enlist," he said.

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