Amid the excitement of America's prolonged Bicentennial celebration the faint Fourth of July cheers from a corner of Arabia last summer went unnoticed and unheard—the cheers from Aramco's small American outposts in towns called Dhahran, Abqaiq and Ras Tanura.
Like many expatriates in recent years, Aramco's Americans have modified the once strident patriotism that in simpler times often marked celebrations of national holidays. But last March, as Americans everywhere began to respond to the mounting Bicentennial fervor in the United States, an Aramco employees' group began to wonder if they too shouldn't do something. Bicentennials, after all, don't come along all that often, do they? And surely Saudi Arabia, Aramco's host for nearly 40 years—and now a corporate partner in the company—wouldn't mind, would it?
No, they found, Saudi Arabia, now host to more than 1,700 American employees participating in the Kingdom's vast industrialization programs, wouldn't mind at all. In fact the Kingdom had already sponsored a large advertisement in The New York Times offering congratulations to the United States. So planning began—the planning that would produce, on July 4, 1976, a celebration that for a few days linked the three small communities in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia with cities and towns throughout the United States of America.
In the forefront in the communities' planning was the employee group's treasurer, Ronald C. Langan, who became Bicentennial chairman and the liaison man with the various organizations that contributed so much to the celebration and the various Aramco departments that provided logistical and financial assistance. "Compared to something like the 'Tall Ships' day in New York," Mr. Langan said later, "our celebration may have seemed small. But it took a lot of work and it was a great success."
It was indeed. From the moment the curtain rose on the Dhahran theater stage and a community choral and brass group broke into a program of stirring music there was no doubt that community enthusiasm had reached an unusual pitch. The cheers were loud, the laughter spontaneous and the enthusiasm contagious. As one man put it, "I haven't enjoyed a Fourth of July like this since I was a kid back in Kansas."
Back in Kansas, of course, there was no Arabian Gulf just over the back fence. But there were similarities—such as the Fourth of July parade. In Dhahran the parade stepped off early on the morning of the first of July, but it was much the same otherwise: drums beating, trumpets blaring, flags flapping and the marchers moving smartly past the lines of spectators. The outing at the flag-draped recreation area was similar too: booths, games, contests, and crowds of people—5,000 according to one estimate.
They had to be fed, naturally, so the Bicentennial committee fed them: from stocks totalling 10,000 hot dogs, 5,000 hamburgers, 6,000 slices of watermelon and 5,000 cups of ice cream, all ordered months before. In addition there were gallons of soda, cartons of Popsicles and tubs of homemade cotton candy laboriously whipped up by the perspiring parents and laughing teenagers who manned the booths.
As at any outing there were games and contests too. Kids of all ages and many nationalities walked a tightrope. Lithe young girls and boys tried to set records in the pool. Young tennis stars exchanged serves and lobs and nearly everyone had a go at shooting baskets or knocking bottles off a ledge with baseballs. There were also softball games, displays of art and a band concert.
At Abqaiq and Ras Tanura, the other two Aramco communities, there were similar festivities in similar settings and in all three places there were special events. One was a Bicentennial film. Another was the wildly heralded appearance of rock star B. J. Thomas.
For those who put it together, of course, and those who worked in the hot sun to make it go, it was an exhausting as well as exhilarating day. But they didn't really mind. After all, Bicentennials don't come along all that often, do they?