U.S. celebrates first Fourth after 9/11
Bush in West Virginia: 'We're thankful for our freedom'
NEW YORK (CNN) -- All across the country, Americans stepped out Thursday to celebrate their nation's independence with parades, fireworks, hot dogs, speeches, family gatherings, and tightened security in the wake of the horrifying terror attacks of September 11. (Celebrations around the country)
But fears of another attack won't stop Coney Island's traditional hot dog eating contest, a concert and fireworks on the National Mall in Washington and thousands of other annual festivities across the nation.
And governments from the federal level all the way down to the local have pledged to make this Fourth of July a safe one.
President Bush traveled Thursday to Ripley, West Virginia, where he delivered an Independence Day speech.
"The anniversary of America's independence is a day for gratitude, and a day for celebration," Bush said. "On the Fourth of July we count our blessings. And there are so many to count: We're thankful for the families we love, we're thankful for the opportunities in America, we're thankful for our freedom, the freedom declared by our founding fathers, defended by many generations, and granted to each one of us by almighty God."
On Wednesday, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer told reporters that the Homeland Security office will be monitoring major events nationwide. Its operations center will be in contact with local law enforcement authorities guarding those sites.
"This is the first July 4th since September 11, so it's wise that security measures are put in place across the country," he said.
The nation's terrorist threat advisory remains at its current yellow, or elevated, status. Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge told CNN there is increased al Qaeda operational activity, citing recent arrests in Morocco and Tunisia. But he said there is "no specific threat" involving the Fourth of July.
In the nation's capital, security is especially heightened. At least 16 agencies will have uniformed personnel patrolling the streets; another half dozen agencies will have men and women undercover throughout Washington, authorities said.
Miles of temporary snow fencing, in double rows, have been erected on the National Mall to help funnel the hundreds of thousands of people into 24 entry points where all bags, backpacks and coolers will be subject to searches. Security cameras will scan the crowds.
The U.S. military will also step up random patrols of American cities and historic venues. In addition, the Federal Aviation Administration has restricted flights around historic sites, including the Statue of Liberty, Mount Rushmore and the St. Louis Gateway Arch.
In New York, which took the brunt of the September 11 attacks when hijackers rammed a pair of jumbo jets into the World Trade Center's Twin Towers, police will be deployed throughout the city. Fighter jets will patrol the sky, and the Air Force and police will be able to communicate directly with each other, said Police Commissioner Ray Kelly.
At 9 p.m. Thursday, Macy's will present the 26th annual fireworks display, called "A Time for Heroes." Halfway into the 30-minute show there will be a 30-second pause entitled "A Tribute to the Fallen." Bell chimes in memory of those who lost their lives last September will be the only sound.
"This year our courage and resolve were tested and yet, we renewed our sense of patriotism and redefined what it meant to be a hero. As such we will present one of the most patriotic shows ever," said the event's executive producer, Robin Hall.
A poll released by Quinnipiac University, in Hamden, Connecticut, Wednesday said people in New York plan to pursue holiday activities even though many of them say a terror attack is likely somewhere in the United States.
"Almost half of New Yorkers expect a terrorist attack this week," said Maurice Carroll, director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. "But in typical in-your-face New York style, almost no one in the Empire State admits that they are running scared."
A new Newsweek poll showed that 57 percent of those polled nationwide believed a terrorist attack on the Fourth of July was "very" or "somewhat" likely.
Here's a look at security in other cities:
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