Korean War veterans Walter Millington, left, and Richard Bilodeau stand for the National Anthem while they and other veterans are honored at Haverhill Stadium last night.

HAVERHILL — Aspiring opera singer Ashley Buckhout was fired up to climb a wet stage last night at Haverhill Stadium and sing the National Anthem to officially open a rain-delayed Independence Day celebration.

Like many of the hundreds who turned out in the midst of a thunderstorm, she worried that the program — featuring a tribute to local veterans capped by fireworks — might get postponed until tomorrow. Then the 2007 Haverhill High School graduate wouldn't be able to perform because she's flying off to Austria to begin a six-week program to study opera.

But in the end, the 40-minute rain delay didn't seem to bother her at all.

"It's great for me because the moisture in the air is good for my voice," said Buckhout, who in the fall will enter her sophomore year at the Cleveland Institute of Music where she is majoring in vocal performance with high hopes of becoming an opera singer.

Last night, she got to hang around a proud group of Haverhill veterans who were just as anxious to see the show go on.

"This is going to be our best fireworks ever," proclaimed Haverhill Mayor James Fiorentini, who made a special award presentation last night to the family of Daryl Bradley, an Air Force staff sergeant from Haverhill who earlier this week participated in a mission to bring home three American hostages who were being held by Columbia rebels (see related story).

The mayor called Bradley "a new Haverhill hero" to a round of applause from those who watched the special ceremony held on the soggy stadium field.

Mayor Fiorentini and Vincent Ouellette, human services director for the city and lead organizer of the festival, decided earlier in the evening that the program would go forward even if it meant no fireworks and honoring the veterans underneath the stadium seats.

Haverhill officials decided to use this year's July 4 celebration to pay tribute to a handful of veterans.

"It's the time of the year we want to reflect on some of these individuals who are still serving our community," Ouellette told the crowd, shortly after announcing that the fireworks would go on as planned.

Among those honored this year were:

Clarence and Alice DeGrave, both World War II veterans who have continued to work with veterans events in their community. Alice is active with the state and local VFW. Clarence, a POW, served as state president of the POW Association and past commander of the Haverhill VFW.

Gerard Boucher, Vietnam War veteran and past commander of Marine Corps League. He has also been commander of the DAV in Haverhill and served as president of the Blinded Veterans Association. He's been involved in a lot of community work.

Raymond J. DeRoche, a Korean War veteran who served with the U.S. Army. He is a founding member of the Korea Veterans Association of Haverhill and the Haverhill Korea Memorial Committee.

Wesley C. Scott, a veteran of Iraqi Freedom, he served two tours of duty in Iraq. He remains active in volunteer veteran affairs while working as a Marine recruiter in Haverhill.

Michael G. Ingham, a retired chief master sergeant with the U.S. Air Force who served during the Vietnam War era. He was also activated for Desert Storm, Desert Shield and Iraqi Freedom. He remains active in veteran affairs as the current veterans service director for City of Haverhill.

Leonard and Michael Comeau. Leonard earned the Purple Heart while doing three tours of duty in Vietnam. He remains an active member in local veteran affairs as a member of AmVets and the VFW. He is a past commander of AmVets Post 147. He is also involved with AmVets Honor Guard. His son, Michael, followed in his foot steps as a sergeant in the Army. He served six months in Iraq and 15 months in Afghanistan. He'll be awarded two Purple Hearts and a Bronze Star on July 29. Leonard Comeau accepted the award for his son who is still on active duty.

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