Bennington – There were barbecues and fireworks, of course, but for about 150 area residents, Independence Day began with the establishment of the holiday itself: a reading of the Declaration of Independence, at the spot where Bennington is referring to his role in the American Revolution.
Mike and Phyllis Chapman of North Husic, New York, dressed in colonial-era clothing and the characters of Stephen and Ruth’s Child Faye, read out the proclamation in the shadow of the Battle of Bennington Memorial. A parade of classic cars and motorcycling clubs for the area’s veterans followed, leading to downtown revelers to ring the USS Bennington bell and sing patriotic songs at Town Hall.
Visitors from as far away as Michigan joined the residents young and old, many of whom showed up in some hues of red, white, and blue for the occasion.
Rotary member Shep Jones, who led the group on songs including “God Bless America” and “My Country’ Tis of Thee,” wore a red, white, and blue hat, and red, white, and blue striped suspenders for the occasion. Jones, a retired US Army lieutenant colonel who served in Germany, Korea, and Vietnam, in addition to local assignments, asked the audience to sing “God Bless America” with him for the second time, and they did so.
“The words and the meaning is what is important,” Jones, who has a deep singing voice, said afterward. “When you can do it, it is a real pleasure. The words to me are very important – that is the message. God bless America ‘so dear to the heart of every patriot.’”
Later, sailors from the USS Vermont toured the state while mooring their submarine in New London, Connecticut, looping through the state, presenting donated Wilcox ice cream to the home of Vermont veterans and visiting the Battle Monument for themselves.
The evening was expected to bring fireworks displays at Willow Park in Bennington and at Thompson Memorial Park in Manchester.
As has been the case for the past six years, Phyllis Chapman, who serves as an interpreter at the Bennington Battlefield State Historic Site, first read from Abigail Adams on March 31, 1776, a letter to her husband, Continental Congressman and future President John Adams.
Often cited as an important harbinger of the suffrage and women’s rights movements, Adams urged her husband to “remember the ladies, and be more gracious and favorable to them than your ancestors.”
But this time, Chapman was reading Adams’ words in light of the Supreme Court ruling that invalidated Roe v. Wade, the previous case barring states from restricting reasonable access to abortion.
This time, when Chapman read Adams’ words out loud, there were shouts of approval and applause from the audience as she read them. And in particular, after these words of the future first lady: “If special attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment rebellion, and will not bind ourselves to any laws in which we have no voice, or representation.”
Chapman was shocked by the reception these words received.
“People usually respond to it,” she later said, “but not as well as they did this year.” “There was applause in the middle of it…that’s completely different.”
Mike Chapman said that every year he gets something new from the Declaration of Independence, which he studies every year for the party.
“Every year there’s always something to touch,” Chapman said of the ad. “And I think that is the brilliance of writing. It is not stagnant – it is something that laid the foundation for the revolution.”
Once the readings were complete, many in attendance followed a long procession of motorcyclists from the American Legion Post 13 and VFW Post 1332 from Old Bennington to downtown, where the Bennington Rotary Club was set up to ring the ninth annual bell.
As club president Mike Day pointed out, a resolution passed by Congress in 1963 promoted the ringing of bells across the country on July 4 to commemorate the anniversary of the Declaration of Independence—like the Liberty Bell that summoned Philadelphia to hear the Declaration in 1776.
Thirteen members of the Bennington Rotary Club—one for each of the 13 colonies—taken in turn to ring the bell, which crossed the world aboard the aircraft carrier USS Bennington from World War II until its decommissioning and cancellation in 1970.
The 14th bell, representing Vermont’s place as the 14th state, was by Donald Miller, on behalf of the Bennington Historical Society. It is an honor given by the Bennington Rotary Club to a person or organization that has served the community with distinction. Former Association President Don Miller rang the bell, as Joe Hall, who was expected to do so, had to withdraw at the last moment.
“Everyone appreciates this honor, but it’s for Bennington, it’s Bennington’s history. We really appreciate them asking us to do this,” Miller said.