The Vietnam War was one of the longest wars in American history, resulting in almost 60,000 American soldiers tragically losing their lives overseas.
As part of this year’s Thunder Over Evans celebration on Armed Forces Day, Thomson, Ga. pyrotechnician Craig Butler says he plans to honor the Vietnam era and its brave soldiers during this year’s massive fireworks show.
“The soundtrack to the show is based on music from the Vietnam era,” Butler said. “We’ll have music from Creedence Clearwater Revival, Steppenwolf, The Beach Boys, James Brown, Jefferson Airplane, the Rolling Stones, Nancy Sinatra, The Monkees, Simon & Garfunkel and I even put a Merle Haggard song in there just because of his recent death.”
Not only is Butler showcasing music from 1966 to 1971 during the Thunder Over Evans’ fireworks show at the Evans Towne Center Park on May 21, but he is also making sure that it will be the biggest fireworks show that the Augusta area has ever seen.
“People can expect the most fireworks that we’ve ever shot here. It is going to be truly amazing,” Butler said. “Due to the closeness of this show to the audience, we can’t shoot large caliber shells, but we shoot just hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of caliber shells. There are probably more shells shot in this show than in any show in Georgia or South Carolina. Period.”
And if people were impressed with last year’s fireworks finale, Butler says folks need to prepare for the thrill of a lifetime at this year’s show.
“The finale last year was 6,479 shells in 46 seconds,” Butler said. “The finale this year is going to close to 8,000 shells in a minute.”
As the largest privately funded Armed Forces Day celebration in the country, Thunder Over Evans is the brainchild of three local businessmen — Donnie Thompson, Andy Jones and the late Dale Phelon — who wanted to give something back to the men and women who serve our country.
It is the perfect opportunity to bring together the public and the military for a fun-filled day of events and a tribute to those who serve.
“We are also going to be doing a couple of things that have never been done at any of the other shows at Evans Towne Center Park,” Butler said, chuckling. “I’m not going to give it away, but we are going to add two exciting new features to our program that no one has ever seen before. People are just going to have to come out and see it. And you are going to have to be there onsite to see it. You can’t see this from the nearby Kroger, or you can’t see this from the courthouse, or you can’t see it from five blocks away. You have got to be there onsite to see what we are going to perform.”
While Butler refused to provide any hints about the surprises, he did say that Vietnam veterans will be particularly moved by what is planned.
“I will tell you this, I know all the Vietnam veterans and soldiers will know what a campaign ribbon bar is. That is the bar that goes on their dress uniforms,” Butler said. “Well, we are going to emulate that campaign bar stretching over 200 feet long to salute the soldiers at the opening of the show. We will make that in fireworks and that is going to be awesome. We’ve never done anything like that before, so we encourage all the Vietnam veterans to please come and enjoy the show.”
For the finale, Butler said he has also decided to incorporate the Apollo 11 countdown.
“That will be the countdown for the finale,” Butler said. “It will be an incredible moment because the Apollo 11 flight, of course, was the mission that resulted in the first man, Neil Armstrong, to walk on the moon in the summer of 1969. It will be the finale of all finales.”
In cooperation with Catawba, S.C.-based East Coast Pyrotechnics and 14 other men to help set up and pull off the show, this year’s Thunder Over Evans is a guaranteed crowd pleaser, Butler said.
“These fireworks have been carefully designed to present a story,” he said. “We don’t just shoot off fireworks. We create a fireworks show that has been carefully choreographed and scripted. It is going to amaze everyone.”
Butler, who also performs downtown Augusta’s Fourth of July fireworks show as well as Columbia County’s Fourth of July show, says nothing compares to Thunder Over Evans.
“I’ve done the downtown Augusta fireworks 26 years in a row,” Butler said. “But you can take the shows in downtown Augusta and Columbia County, both shows, combine them together, and there will be more shells shot in the last minute of Thunder Over Evans than those two shows combined.”
It will be the biggest, most exciting fireworks show of the year in the CSRA, Butler said.
“I can tell you right now, I will get very sentimental during this show,” Butler said. “I am not a Vietnam veteran, but I’m from the Vietnam era. I was going to go to Vietnam, but I had a medical issue that kept me from going to Vietnam, thank God. But I will be very sentimental. I will probably even cry. It’s that emotional for me. I’ve got chill bumps on my arm just discussing it. So I hope everyone will come out and enjoy the show.”
Thunder Over Evans
Saturday, May 21
11 a.m. until 10 p.m.
Evans Towne Center Park
For more information, visit thunderoveraugusta.com