Centennial Memorial Park was filled with colors – from the red caps of retired Marine Corps members, veteran sailors’ Navy blue, to the greens and browns of Army fatigues – by the time the 11 a.m. ceremony began.
Local veterans activist Ken Rollins called the event a honor for living veterans and a memorial for those who never made it home. He, Anniston Mayor Gene Robinson and Calhoun County Commission Chairman Eli Henderson each gave short speeches about the necessity of remembering those who have served to protect the country.
“Before you leave today, be sure to check these names out,” Henderson said, crying as he gestured to the wall behind him that bears the names of Alabamians who died on foreign soil. “They paid the ultimate price.”
Anniston resident Buddy Howell stood near the wall before the ceremony started. The retired Marine Corps member said he has many friends whose names are etched into that stone. That’s why he’s come to the ceremony at the park every year “for as long as I can recall.”
“This is important; I think it it’s important to recognize veterans,” Howell said. He fell quiet for a moment as he stared at the wall, then mentioned that several people had congratulated him today for his own service in Korea.
“Looking back on it, that was a scary time,” Howell said of the year he left Bynum for Korea in 1952.
The hour-and-a-half long ceremony reflected on those scary times served by veterans during both world wars, in Korea and Vietnam and, more recently, in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The hundreds gathered listened to patriotic songs, prayed and watched a Fallen Soldier Ceremony to commemorate those military men and women who never returned home.
About 50 people laid roses at the foot of the gun, helmet and Army vest that symbolized the fallen soldier. As the people filtered past with their flowers, they took a microphone from Rollins and spoke the name or names of the lost veterans they wished to remember.
Cleburne County Probate Judge Ryan Robertson’s rendition of “God Bless the USA” brought the crowd to its feet at the end of the ceremony.
Anniston resident Mary Bryant, a 92-year-old veteran of World War II, smiled as she posed for a picture at the event’s end. She held up a snapshot of herself as a young girl in Army uniform.
“They were the best days of my life,” she said of her time in the military. “My family is very proud.”
This afternoon, veterans and well wishers were gathering for a parade on Noble Street from 17th Street to Ninth Street. The parade begins at 2 p.m.
Staff Writer Cameron Steele: 256-235-3562