Story and photos by Darl DeVault, contributing editor
Billed as “Our America, Spanning the Generations,” this year’s Edmond LibertyFest parade featured seniors Ms. Oklahoma Senior America Karen Tims, 70 and her invitee, America’s top air ace from the Vietnam War, Chuck DeBellevue, 77.
Taking part for the first time in what is hailed as Oklahoma’s most extensive and most patriotic parade each 4th of July, the two seniors represented the older generation well. They said they were in awe of the patriotic outpouring of American pride displayed along the 1.5-mile downtown Edmond route from the often 10-deep crowd in the shady areas.
Bands, floats, clowns, Boy and Girl Scouts by the hundreds, marching groups, horse groups, Corvettes and antique cars, clowns, round-up clubs, Shriners and more provided color and excitement to the 51st annual parade.
The City of Edmond, the University of Central Oklahoma and The Edmond School District provides people, equipment and facilities to make the all-volunteer parade happen with the support of the Chamber of Commerce. This year the presenting sponsor was Citizens Bank of Edmond.
The parade is one of the largest in Oklahoma, attracting an estimated 120,000 people, some with their extended families in place as early as 6 a.m. in the dark along the route.
Tims, a businesswoman living in Arcadia, was crowned Ms. Oklahoma Senior America 2023 during the 15th annual pageant on April 15. She asked that the organization wait to send out news releases about her new role until she could find an event newsworthy enough to warrant the state’s attention.
“My goal in being a part of the LibertyFest Parade was to honor patriotism by more than saying we support America but by also showing the parade attendees a hero of patriotism by inviting Col. Chuck DeBellevue, our top air ace from the Vietnam War, to accompany me in the parade,” Tims said. “The ability to give a decorated veteran his rightful place in his hometown’s huge celebration is far more important than the idea that I was selected as Ms. Oklahoma Senior America. I was so grateful someone of DeBellevue’s military preeminence accepted my invitation, so I designed signs for the car doors and looked forward to seeing Edmond residents honor his service to our great country in the skies over North Vietnam.”
Tims said the cheering crowds along the parade route were fabulous, with most places crowded beyond capacity. So very many stood, and others saluted the Colonel and thanked him for his service.
“I had tears streaming down my cheeks at this heartwarming experience for him to receive this appreciation,” Tims said. “This was his first Edmond parade, and he was well pleased, and for me, it was quite an experience to have met this gentleman.”
Tims said people may recall that the military returning from Vietnam were not always treated respectfully. It made her happy to see this change in the appropriate behavior for someone who served for such a long and distinguished career in the Air Force on our behalf.
She says she was delighted to see so many enjoying the parade and the joy of seeing each participant because everyone was excited and having fun with huge smiles.
“I have to say my driver and his car drew a lot of attention from the young and not-so-young boys admiring his car,” Tims said. “Andy Archbald drove us in his black Cobra convertible. He had it shining and decorated with an American flag on each side at the front of the hood to denote a military dignitary.”
Tims says the notable excitement along the parade route was so much more than she had ever expected. She was impressed that so many people were having fun at this local event.
“I will ask Col. DeBellevue to consider we switch roles next year since my status only lasts a year,” Tims said. “He will likely be invited back because of the crowd’s huge patriotic outpouring for his attendance. I am hoping he will invite me to ride along to allow me to make such wonderful memories again.”
U.S. Air Force Capt. Charles B. DeBellevue, now 77, became America’s first and only six MiG victory credit flying ace in 1972 in the skies of North Vietnam as an Air Force Weapon Systems Officer (WSO).
DeBellevue was an integral part of a two-person aircrew in the McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II, a two-seat, twin-engine, all-weather, long-range supersonic jet interceptor and fighter bomber. His air-to-air missile victories earned him the Air Force Cross and three Silver Stars.
Living in Edmond for 25 years now, the retired colonel says he witnessed a patriotic glimpse of America on display at the parade. “It is an honor to see my fellow citizens celebrate our independence with 100 parade entries and flock to the parade route to continue one of our best traditions,” DeBellevue said.
“Early in the UCO staging area, I saw the patriotic energy in the Edmond North High School Air Force Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps cadets,” DeBellevue said. “They looked sharp in their uniforms. Five members were the 2023 National Champions of the Air Force Association’s StellarXplorers Space STEM program. They were the best of 350 teams nationwide. They earned an all-expenses-paid trip to Space Center Houston in Texas. Members of the top three teams received scholarships to pursue their STEM education and career goals.”
DeBellevue said things got even better when he learned he was to ride in a black Mustang Cobra Convertible.
He said the parade exceeded his expectations. “The crowd was amazing – energetic, patriotic and proud to be celebrating the 4th of July,” DeBellevue said. “Being in uniform, I was impressed when veterans cheered as our car went by. Some clapped, some stood, and some saluted, which I returned. The center of this country is obviously very patriotic.”
Being near the start of the parade paid off, he said. “Once we completed the parade, I watched the rest come through,” DeBellevue said. “For me, the old tractors and the Corvettes were a big hit, as were the three Edmond high school marching bands celebrating the 247th birthday of this great country.”