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An Unforgettable Parade

I’ve never seen a parade I didn’t like. From Fourth of July neighborhood parades where kids ride tricycles and wear blue shorts and red and white striped shirts to Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade in New York City, which I’ve only seen on television. And I try to never miss TTU’s Homecoming parades featuring floats made by Tech students and marching bands from many area high schools.

But one parade stands out in my memory. A parade I didn’t plan to watch. Didn’t even realize I was in the right place at the right time until I braked at a stop sign on Washington Avenue and saw a few people standing on the sidewalk. Samuel, my oldest Grand who was 11 at the time, was riding in my van with me.

“What’s happening here?” Samuel asked. I shrugged my shoulders and then looked across the street and saw a military vehicle, young people carrying the American flag and other flags, and some older men dressed in military uniforms. Then I remembered the date and that I’d read about a planned parade.

“It’s the Veteran’s Day Parade,” I said and immediately decided we would join the people on the sidewalk. I don’t remember every detail of that parade, but there were no floats. No fancy cars decorated with crepe paper and balloons. No clowns. No motorcycles. No horses. No candy thrown to spectators. And only one band, but not even all the members of the Cookeville High School marching band.

The band members played patriotic marching songs and members of ROTC, Reserve Officer Training Corps, carrying the flags led. Veterans marched or rode in military jeeps and trucks. Veterans from all branches of the military. Veterans of all ages. Most the age of grandparents. Some walking very slowly. All dressed in uniform.

The veterans carried their shoulders and chins high and acknowledged those of us who applauded quietly to say thank you. Slight head nods and closed mouth smiles were the veterans’ responses to our expressions of appreciation.

This Veteran’s Day parade was short. As the last veteran walked past, Samuel looked up at me. I wiped the back of my hands across my eyes and he asked, “Gran, why are you crying?”

To me, the veterans represented all who have served in the United States Armed Forces, including my father and brother. Dad served in the Army at the end of WW II, and Roger was stationed in Spain for three years while in the Air Force. And I thought of a high school classmate who lost his life fighting in Viet Nam.

Monday, November 12, at 11:00 a.m. we are all invited to honor our veterans at the Putnam County Veterans Day Parade. There will be a short opening ceremony at the courthouse, and then the parade will proceed along Broad Street from North Washington Avenue to the Cookeville Depot. Anyone interested in more information should contact a Veteran’s Service Officer at 931-526-2432.

Let’s line Broad Street to honor those who have served our country.

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Veterans are Real People

Picture 1A small sign at Dixie Avenue reads Putnam County Veterans Hall.  I drove my van down a narrow driveway beside the County Court Clerk’s Office and parked on the lower level behind the red brick building.  “Are you sure this is really a museum?” my oldest Grand asked.  I read aloud the sign on the door: Putnam County Archives and Veterans Hall.  Yes, we were at the right place.

“What’s a ‘vetrun’?” asked my four-year-old Grand.  Someone who was in the military, the armed forces.  “What’s armed forces?”  That was harder to explain to my Grands, ages 4, 6, and 8.  It was time to go inside the building and look around.

We met the first soldier.  Standing life-size and wearing full army uniform.  A mannequin, inside a wooden showcase with a glass front and mirrored back.  On a small gold plaque, the veteran’s name, rank, and where he had served were printed.  We saw more showcases and dozens of framed photographs of men and women in military uniforms.  Photographs hanging from ceiling to floor.

My Grands and I wandered among the maze-like hallways and commented about men with mustaches, women wearing white sailor uniforms, rifles inside showcases.  We saw veterans who served during the War of 1812, the Civil War, World War I, World War II, Korean War, Vietnam War, Desert Storm, Afghanistan, Iraq, and all the years between.  There were 800 photographs and 75 mannequins in showcases honoring veterans of all branches of the armed forces.

 “Are these real people?” my young Grand asked.  Yes, each and every veteran is a real person.  Like my daddy and Husband’s father who served during World War II, and my brother who served in the Air Force about fifty years ago.  Every veteran is somebody’s child, somebody’s brother or sister, somebody’s husband or wife, somebody’s father or mother.

Inside one showcase beside a solider were photographs of a young man, before enlisting in the military.  As a high school senior, wearing a mortarboardAs a groom, standing beside his bride.  As a parent, holding a baby boy.  A real person.

Veterans are real people who left their homes and joined the Armed Forces.  Who lived in, as a friend told me, an alien environment.   He fought in Viet Nam, and he said that serving in the military was a mind and body bender.  A way of life that I cannot imagine. A way of life that I wanted my young Grands to glimpse, even if all they understood was that veterans had worn different kinds of uniforms and had lived far from home.

Let’s all honor veterans on Veteran’s Day, Monday, November 11.  Thank a veteran.  Tell your children and grandchildren stories about their relatives who are veterans.  Sing a patriotic song.  Fly the American flag.  Visit the cemetery.  Visit the Putnam County Veterans Hall.  Veterans are real people.  Real heroes.

The Putnam County Veterans Hall, located at 121 B Dixie Avenue, will be open on Veteran’s Day from 10:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m. Regular hours: Wednesday – Friday, 12-4:00 p.m. Call (931) 520-0042 for more information.

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