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Memorial Day service honors veterans at Balloon Fest's final day

Posted May 30

A Memorial Day service at the WRAL Freedom Balloon Festival honored veterans Monday.
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— Attendance was small on Monday for the final day of the WRAL Freedom Balloon Festival, but the four-day event was still an incredible success - in both its record-setting numbers and in its tribute to men and women who lost their lives serving our country.

Due to overcast skies and iffy weather from Tropical Depression Bonnie, the crowd for Monday morning's Memorial Day service numbered only a couple hundred.

The weather didn't stop larger crowds from turning out earlier in the weekend, though, as a whopping 73,000 people attended this year's festival on Friday and Saturday alone. Even with the small attendance on Sunday and Monday that festival organizers are calling a "wash out," 2016's total attendance tops the estimated 72,000 visitors who attended in 2015, when the festival was held in Zebulon.

Despite the dreary weather, Memorial Day at Balloon Fest was a special event. Bagpipes coupled with the blast of hot air balloon burners saluted fallen soldiers. The focus was on our country's freedom and the lives it cost to achieve it.

This Memorial Day ceremony is what brought Sandi Reasoner and her grandsons to the "Field of Flags" at Fleming Loop Park.

"This is exactly the kind of message we want to send to [children]," she said. "To have them grow up knowing these people sacrificed their lives for them to have the freedoms they have."

The flags that covered the festival grounds in Fuquay-Varina throughout the weekend are now resting on the graves of service members at cemeteries across central North Carolina.

Festival organizers are proud of the event's important meaning and know that its success will only continue to grow.

This year was the two-year-old event's first year at the Fuquay-Varina park.

Organizers have acknowledged the lines and crowds that filled the main entrance in the festival's busiest days and are planning to widen the area or have a second entrance next year.

The festival's park-and-ride system worked well, too, but organizers would like to add more shuttles next year. The shuttles depend on festival sponsorships - transportation this year cost $192,000.

"Naturally, we can always make improvements on things, but we were able to move 45,000 people into the festival on Saturday in about two hours," said Brian Hoyle, lead organizer for Balloon Fest. "That's success."

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