CLEARWATER (FOX 13) - The skies over Tampa Bay were lit up with fireworks Monday night as communities celebrated the 4th of July.
One of the biggest celebrations happened at Clearwater's Coachman Park. Hundreds of people crowded onto the grass to mark America's 240th birthday.
Coachman Park has, for many years, been the place to celebrate the 4th of July. Like any event, there's sizzling food, games and live music. But, there were also reminders of what's really important.
The kids there may be young, but even they know this day means more than hot dogs and fireworks.
"I'm wearing a 4th of July shirt and 4th of July necklace," said little Hemi Donnelly as she showed off her fluffy red, white and blue skirt.
Children stopped for a few minutes to create cards thanking our troops.
"So they know I care about them a lot," said Makyla Gibson.
"Happy 4th of July and thank you for fighting for our country," said Traci Mouzon.
A "thank you" like that, especially on Independence Day, means the world to Army veteran Michael Brown.
"To see people representing our colors, it's rewarding for people who have served," Brown said. "You get something out of it too, coming back. The benefit for seeing people cheer us on, reward us with thanks."
The Wilson family, which included former FOX 13 anchor John, his wife, Mary K and son, Paul filled the park with patriotic music. Meanwhile, FOX 13's Mark Wilson served as emcee of the event.
The words of the national anthem carried extra special meaning for another Wilson in the crowd, though there's no relation.
The Star-Spangled Banner is now Nubia Wilson's anthem. That's because this is Nubia's very first 4th of July as an American citizen.
"A lot of joy. Happiness," Wilson said. "I am very very proud of this country. This is a country of opportunities. They are helping so many people from everywhere around the world to be in this country. We all have to be grateful because this is the most amazing country."
Whether you're a child, a veteran or a brand new citizen, there's one feeling shared by all.
"Proud to be an American," Wilson said.
There was also a special tribute by the Coachman Park Pops Orchestra. They played a Disney medley for the victims in Orlando's pulse nightclub shooting and for the city that is still healing.