The Winn-Dixie parking lot began to fill up before 8 a.m. Friday to prepare for the July 4th parade. Floats were being decorated, balloons were being inflated and candy, toy flying discs and lollypops were being loaded onto the floats.
Then at 9:45, the American Legion Post #136 kicked off the annual Independence Day parade with cannon fire. The parade left from the Winn-Dixie parking lot and traveled north on Stringfellow Road to the intersection where it turned left to the Elks Lodge. All along the route volunteers threw candy, taffy and plastic beads to spectators.
In the half mile on Stringfellow, thousands of spectators gathered. William "Billy" Dayton and his mother, Nancy, arrived early.
American Legion float.
"We got here before 9:30 to get a good spot for the parade," Dayton said. "This is the first time we've been to this parade and later we're going to Red, White and Boom on the Cape."
Dayton was very excited to retrieve several candies and a flying disc.
Michael Gibbons, owner of Matlacha Cottages, strategically set up chairs on the northwest corner of Stringfellow and Pine Island roads.
"We've been coming to the parade every year since we moved here three years ago," Gibbons said. "We've been coming to the area since the early 1980s but bought our house here 14 years ago. We come to the parade every year because it's a family tradition dating back to when I was a child. It's very important to show our support for the community."
The Matlacha Pine Island Fire Control District led the parade. About 10 minutes after the start, a 911 call came in and two engines left the parade lights on and sirens blaring adding even more excitement.
Floats from the American Legion, Matlacha Hookers, From Our Hearts (sponsored by CW Fudge) and many others, plus antique cars, horses and even a miniature pony passed by cheering crowds.
The parade lasted nearly an hour.
"We had great participation this year," American Legion Post 136 Commander Frank Taugner said. "I believe there were more floats this year than ever before. I've been doing these parades with the Elks and the land trust and now the Legion. The Legion has been doing the parade probably for more than 10 years after the Elks stopped. I didn't want the island to lose this parade so we picked up where they left off. Everybody loves the parade every year more and more people come out. This year is by far the most people I've seen.
"We have a great team here at the Legion," Taugner said. "Linda Lewis and her team set up the float with Ann McDonald as chairman of the float. It's just amazing the organization that goes into making this so successful.
"What the Fourth means to me is a lot of kids that I used to know aren't around any more," Taugner said.
Taugner served as a radar technician in a NIKE site for the U.S. Army.
"I was stationed stateside and served on "the Rock," a small island in Puget Sound, in the Seattle defense. "My brother went in with six of them and there's only one left. He's head of the Veterans Affairs in Cleveland. These guys are why I wanted to get into the league in the first place. I think about guys like that and, of course, some of the guys we have in here (the Legion) that have been through a lot.
"The beauty of this parade is everyone can be involved," Taugner said. "That's what makes July 4th on Pine Island so much fun."
The weather held out and the day wrapped up after dark with a spectacular fireworks show at the American Legion.