'People are ready to come back together': Fourth of July fireworks make return across central NC

Thousands of people attended Fort Bragg's Independence Day celebration after a two-year hiatus.

"(I've) been stuck in the house for so long. And we retired out of Fort Bragg, so it's good to be back out here on the field again," said Christopher McWillis, a retired Army medic.

McWillis, who said he used to help set up the event while stationed here, brought his grandson to experience the festivities.

For the Offer's, Sunday was also a family affair.

"My son is stationed here at Fort Bragg. He invited us down. And said 'hey, we're going to have a good time. And Foreigner's in concert.' He didn't have to tell me anything more than Foreigner's in concert," said Jay Offer, who served in the Army.

Offer explained what made spending the day on post so special.

"You can't compare to a 4th of July celebration on a military installation. I don't care what branch you're in. 365 days a year patriotism is on display, dedication, the very heart of protecting this Constitution and this country. So when you come to 4th of July celebration on a military base, you're coming to a top-shelf celebration," Offer explained.

Rock band Foreigner performed for about 90 minutes, prior to a fireworks show to close out the night.

The event was cancelled in 2020 due to the pandemic, and severe weather nixed it in 2019.

"People are ready to come back together and celebrate the fourth of July," said Col. Scott A. Pence, the Garrison Commander at Fort Bragg.

Pence, joined by Command Sgt. Jeffrey A. Loehr, shared what July 4th meant.

"It's everything our country's about. Freedom primarily. Liberty. It stands for everything. It's the reason we're here," said Loehr.

"July 4th is why we both signed up to serve. So after 23 years, it's why we continue to serve this great nation. And we're committed. 245 years of the nation's history, and we're glad to be here today," added Pence.

The large crowds were a welcome sight for food stands and trucks, which lined the perimeter of the field, happy to capitalize off one of the region's largest crowds since the beginning of the pandemic.

"It's been great that the doors have opened and we're allowed to actually get out and sell and have people enjoy our products and creations," said Selim Oztaly, owner of Gnam Gnam Gelato out of Greensboro.

The Fourth of July Celebration is Fort Bragg's largest event, and was free and open to everybody with a DOD ID or an access pass.