Parade Of Thanks For Veterans
November 2, 2011
REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala.--It's that time of year when Huntsville celebrates its "red, white and blue."
Patriotism will come out in full force with another supersized Veterans Day parade on Nov. 11, beginning at 11 a.m. in downtown Huntsville. There will be bands, floats, children's dance and martial arts groups, clowns and a big Soldier presence with Redstone Arsenal leadership, local ROTC and JROTC units, veteran and military retiree organizations, and National Guard Soldiers all marching in the parade.
Presented under the theme "Courage, Sacrifice and Duty: Honoring Our Military Veterans," it will be the kind of parade the North Alabama community expects on Veterans Day as patriots of all ages cheer, wave miniature U.S. flags and take pictures along the route.
"It's in our DNA in this town. Patriotism is in our DNA. We bleed red, white and blue," Joe Fitzgerald, chairman of this year's Veterans Day committee and president of Alabama's Association of the U.S. Army, said. "Huntsville is very unique, a very patriotic community."
For Fitzgerald, there is also no other holiday like the one that falls on Nov. 11 each year.
"Veterans Day allows us to show how much we cherish and are thankful for the service of the many veterans who have given us the freedoms we enjoy," he said.
"This is a very unique holiday. Armed Forces Day lets us show our appreciation for those who are currently serving. Memorial Day is a day of remembrance of those who paid the ultimate price of battle. But Veterans Day allows us to honor and recognize those who served in uniform -- living and dead -- and all veterans who have written a check to their nation payable with their lives if so called for. These veterans may have served many years, or just two, three or four years. But they did their duty and they are veterans."
This year's parade will be different from years past in a very good and big way by preceding it with the dedication of the Veterans Memorial at downtown Huntsville's Veterans Park, an event that has been more than 10 years in the making. It will take place at 9:30 a.m. Nov. 11, with the parade following.
"The dedication will have a lot of pageantry built into it," retired Brig. Gen. Bob Drolet, a local veteran volunteer who is a member of the memorial's foundation, said.
"It's going to be a very good event. It's going to be historical."
Making history is par for the course for all the Veterans Day activities this community puts together each year.
"We will have upwards of 100 or more elements in the parade. But that doesn't count each piece of those elements. For example, the Vets With Vettes Corvette Club is one element, but they will have some 60 cars in the parade. A lot of elements are registered that have multiple pieces," Fitzgerald said.
"This is one of the largest, if not the largest, Veterans Day parades in the country."
Maj. Gen. Jim Rogers, commander of the Aviation and Missile Command, and Redstone Arsenal's senior commander, got his first-ever -- "very impressive" -- view of the local Veterans Day parade last year as a spectator. This year, he will ride in the lead jeep as the grand marshal with his wife Reba by his side while two of his children march with one of the parade bands, and AMCOM's Command Sgt. Maj. Ricky Yates and fiancee ride in a follow-on jeep.
Rogers was impressed last year by the entire week of festivities that centered around the Veterans Day parade.
"From the luncheon to the breakfast to the parade, I've never seen a community celebrate it to this magnitude anywhere else in my career," he said.
"This parade and all the events show the link, the strength of Team Redstone. Veterans Day is not only about honoring veterans, but honoring those cities that support our veterans. These events really show how the community cares about us and how they are an integral part of Team Redstone."
Rogers is looking forward to waving to the crowds of people who line the parade route.
"It is a real treat to see the amount of people who come out to the parade. It really shows this community's support to our veterans," he said.
Celebrations around Veterans Day kick off Nov. 7 with a prayer breakfast at the Hogan Family YMCA on Hughes Road in Madison that begins at 7:30 a.m. Tickets to the event are $20 and cover the cost of breakfast for both a civilian and a servicemember. Tickets can be purchased by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or by paying at the door.
"The breakfast and all the activities we have planned fall under Heroes Week," Fitzgerald said.
"About five years ago, the Semper Fi Community Task Force began bringing in wounded warriors for events around Veterans Day. They started bringing the wounded warriors to Huntsville to show them how much we care for what they did for our country. That began what has become Heroes Week," Fitzgerald said. "We're excited about all we've got going on. We're excited about the up-tempo of the whole week."
This year, 32 wounded warriors, representing the Marines, Army and Navy, along with their spouses will arrive on Nov. 8. A week of activities will include a boat parade in Guntersville, school visits to speak with students about their experiences, the Marine Corps Ball, a fishing tournament and the Veterans Day activities.
On Nov. 10, the public is invited to a Veterans Day luncheon at the Von Braun Center's North Hall beginning at 11 a.m. Recipients of the Veteran of the Year and Lifetime Achievement award will be announced, and inductees into the Madison County Hall of Heroes and the local Purple Heart chapter will be presented.
Madison County Hall of Heroes inductees include Jon Frederick Evans, Silver Star and Distinguished Flying Cross; Charles George Blume, Bronze Star Medal with Valor and three Purple Hearts; Dennis Ross Lacy, Army Commendation Medal with Valor; and Kenneth Gene Trickey, Army Commendation Medal with Valor and Purple Heart. Purple Heart inductees include Jason Carter, Afghanistan; Matthew Gardner, Iraq; Grant Rosensteel, Vietnam; and Charles George Blume, Vietnam.
Although the luncheon is funded through corporate sponsors that purchase tables at the event, individual tickets are also available for $50 each. They can be purchased by contacting Linda Crutcher at email@example.com or 722-4260.
"We changed what has normally been a Veterans Day dinner to a Veterans Day lunch. We did this for a couple of reasons. One is because the next day's activities start so early in the day. The second is because of the cost of a dinner," Fitzgerald said. "We would rather reduce the cost of this event by making it a lunch so that corporations and individuals may have more resources to donate to the completion of the Veterans Memorial."
Nov. 11 will begin with a 7:30 a.m. breakfast at the Von Braun Center's North Hall, where the community's Blue Star families and Gold Star families will be recognized. The ribbon cutting ceremony for the $3 million Veterans Memorial will begin at 9:30 at Veterans Park.
The 19th Alabama Volunteer Infantry Regiment will participate in the event along with a list of dignitaries that includes Sen. Jeff Sessions. It will conclude with a three-piece ribbon cutting with veterans organizations cutting the Courage ribbon; donors, and local military and community leaders cutting the Duty ribbon; and wounded warriors and Gold Star families cutting the Sacrifice ribbon. In addition, family members of two Medal of Honor recipients -- the late Cecil Bolton of Huntsville, an Army officer in World War II, and the late Paul Luther Bolden of Madison, a Soldier in World War II -- will be in attendance.
"This magnificent memorial will be open to the public from that time forevermore," Fitzgerald said.
The parade will then begin with a cannon firing.
"This year the parade will go in the opposite direction than in years past," Fitzgerald said. "We are doing this because we want to begin the parade at the Veterans Memorial where our parade stand has been moved. It will end at the Von Braun Center's North Hall on Clinton Avenue."
The Army Materiel Command marching band will lead off the parade. Besides floats, bands and marching groups, the parade will also include at least 12 pieces from the Veterans Memorial Museum, including a World War II jeep, half-track tank and armored car, a Korean War jeep and Vietnam War jeep. The route will go east on Monroe Street in front of the Veterans Memorial, south on Greene Street, west/northwest on Williams/Monroe Street and west on Clinton Avenue.
Lt. Gen. Richard Formica, commander of the Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command, will be the parade reviewing official. He will be assisted by SMDC/ARSTRAT Command Sgt. Maj. Larry Turner. Parade entries are still being accepted and can be registered at WAFF.com.
Following the parade, the Veterans Memorial Museum will be open free to the public.
"We always have quite a crowd at our open house," museum director Randy Withrow said. "We like to be open free to the public on Veterans Day because we want to share with the public that may not know about the museum and what it represents for our veterans."
Fitzgerald said it is groups like the Redstone/Huntsville Chapter of AUSA, the Huntsville Chapter of the Warrant Officers Association, Veterans Memorial Museum and the North Alabama Veterans and Fraternal Organizations Coalition that bring together all the plans for Veterans Day and its parade. The group works on the details of the events with the support and coordination of the cities of Huntsville and Madison, the Madison County Commission and several corporate sponsors.
"It takes a lot of work to pull all these projects into a week of Veterans Day activities," he said. "It takes a lot of volunteers and groups to make our Veterans Day parade one of the best in the nation."