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Veterans highlight Central Point parade

Heather Bessey walked among a sea of red, white and blue in Central Point's Fourth of July parade wearing what may be an even more patriotic color: purple.

The 33-year-old from Medford is the first woman in Southern Oregon to join the Military Order of the Purple Heart, Rogue Valley Chapter No. 147. She became a member of the group two years ago after being injured in a mortar attack in Iraq in 2003.

Standing with her 5-year-old son, Bessey recalled the moment the mortar exploded 20 feet in front of her on the military base known as Camp Anaconda near Baghdad. From the mortar spewed pieces of metal that struck her from head to toe on her left side.

She said she still feels pain and suffers from severe post-traumatic stress disorder.

Bessey was one of more than a dozen members of the local chapter of the order at Central Point's 50th annual Fourth of July parade. Although the old-fashioned cars and shiny black Corvettes were eye-catching, crowds cheered the loudest when veteran groups passed by.

"The parade is such a patriotic display," Bessey said. "I love seeing that."

Cindy Hudson, festival chairwoman, said 16 veteran groups participated in Wednesday's festivities.

"Most of the veteran groups came to us wanting to be involved in the parade," Hudson said. "We always have a great response from the vets."

A flyover by F-15 Eagle fighter jets kicked off the parade around 9:45 a.m. to cheering admirers waving American flags in the air.

More than 15,000 people lined the streets of downtown Central Point decked out in stars and stripes for the 90-minute parade. About 85 groups participated in the parade, Hudson said, while 53 vendors set up at the "Freedom Festival" in Pfaff Park that included music, food and activities for kids.

One 4-year-old girl, Audrey Misener, watched the parade while wearing a red, white and blue tulle dress her mother made for the occasion. Others wore American flag button-up shirts, flag skirts, ties and hats.

Riding with the Military Order of the Purple Heart, 89-year-old World War II veteran Norm Mainwaring had several American flag pins attached to his straw hat. He served in the U.S. Air Force and received a Purple Heart after being stuck by two flak gun rounds in Hungary.

Mainwaring, participating in the parade for the first time, was all smiles sitting next to his wife, Pauline Mainwaring, 87.

Members of one group, the Young Marines of Southern Oregon, also were all smiles while they carried the large American flag that flies above Crater Lake Ford in Medford.

The Young Marines is a youth program of the Marine Corps League that trains children ages 8 to 18 in discipline, teamwork and the benefits of a drug-free lifestyle.

Young Marine member Matthew Hoff, 11, walked proudly through Pfaff Park in a camouflage uniform. He said this is his fourth year coming to the parade.

"I like to come and help the community," he said.

His father, Michael Hoff, Young Marine executive officer, said his son has been enamored by the military since a young age. Hoff said fewer than 10 percent of Young Marines join the military. But Matthew may be one of the few who join.

"I'm aiming that way," he said, smiling.

Reach University of Oregon reporting intern Josephine Woolington at 541-776-4368 or jwoolington@mailtribune.com