South Charlotte

Patriot Festival salutes U.S. Armed Forces

The Patriot Festival is back this Memorial Day to honor U.S. Armed Forces and raise money for wounded military personnel and their families in the Carolinas.

The family-friendly festivities, such as military maneuvers, live bands, photo opportunities with local mascots and a cooking contest, are from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. May 30 at SouthPark mall's Symphony Park, off Sharon Road.

The festival is put on by Patriot Charities, a group that raises money for local programs and nonprofits that support the wounded and their families.

About 500,000 U.S. military active-duty forces call North Carolina home, according to USO-NC, a private nonprofit that advocates for wounded military personnel.

The day's events will start with a 5K and run/walk, and race participants get a ticket to the festival.

National teams, military-running groups and Jeremy Soles, who holds the world record for fastest time running a marathon in a gas mask, will be at the starting line.

Charlotte native and trained opera singer Sgt. John Hyland will perform the national anthem in the morning. Hyland suffered a shattered pelvis, a spinal cord injury and a leg amputation below the knee, when an explosive device hit his Humvee in 2007.

The Rib Burn-Off, spotlighting area restaurants and backyard enthusiasts, will be judged by local food experts, including the Observer's food editor, Kathleen Purvis.

JROTC cadets from Myers Park, Providence and West Mecklenburg high schools will perform on stage, and in mid-afternoon, there will be a series of jumps by U.S. Military parachuting teams.

One prominent parachuter who will be at the event, Mike Elliot, did tandem jumps with President H.W. Bush on his 83rd and 85th birthdays.

Elliot's partner in the jump is Dana Bowman, a double amputee.

The U.S. Army Special Operations Command Parachute Team, The Black Daggers, will also jump with the American flag.

"It's exciting to be able to see these guys jump from an airplane and land right on the dot in the middle of the crowd," said Debbie Williams, president of Professional Consulting Group, which has helped coordinate the events.

Afterward, retired Air Force Col. Quincy Collins, a former Vietnam War prisoner of war who shared a cell with U.S. Sen. John McCain, will give a POW tribute.

There will also be a tribute to military personnel who gave their lives serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, along with a 21-gun salute and performance of taps.

If you've never see one, it's worth the trip, Williams said of the 21-gun salute. "It's an amazing tribute at the end of the day."