More than 450 people participated in the parade, marching or riding one of the 117 parade vehicles down Noble Street, according to parade master of ceremonies Mike Abrams. He said that nationally there are more than 22 million veterans alive today, 405,600 of whom are Alabamans. According to the Veterans Administration, 302,800 of Alabama’s veterans — nearly 75 percent — are wartime veterans.
“Even though the statistics show that a very small percentage of our citizens are veterans, each veteran has a family, and within that family, are friends,” Abrams said. “The ripple of a veteran’s service goes far and wide.”
That ripple effect, Abrams believes, is what helps communities such as those in Calhoun County rally around men and women who have donned a uniform in service to their country — men like Frank Turner and Ben Tomlinson, grand marshals of the parade. Turner, 94, maintained the runways at Tinian Island, from which the planes departed to drop the atomic bombs on Japan and effectively end World War II. Sgt. Ben Tomlinson saw his own rally in January, when he returned from a veterans hospital after eight months of work to recover from a paralyzing bullet on an Afghan rooftop.
Jeffrey Milton mingled with the crowd along the parade route, ensuring every bystander had an American flag to wave. A member of American Legion Post 312, he said his mission Sunday wasn’t just about the flags, but what the flags represent, ideals like democracy and freedom. “I do it because I wore the uniform,” he said.
Milton said that Veterans Day, with events such as the parade and ceremonies, “is one of the few days that everybody in Calhoun County will get together — black, white, whatever.” Because so many people have veterans in their lives, the day to honor service to the nation is something that can transcend the daily squabbles and disagreements that can separate people. “This day here,” he said, “everybody is together.”
Abrams agreed with Milton’s assessment. He noted that there can be a kind of turf warfare among the different service branches and veterans organizations. But with the Calhoun County Veterans Organization, which was formed to coordinate the annual parade, Abrams said he knew right away that it would be “one for all and all for one.”
For the veterans, the day can strengthen the bond one feels for brothers and sisters in uniform.
Gary Harvey spent 20 years in the Army. As he stood along Noble Street Sunday watching the parade go by, he said that the event was a time to remember the good things.
“Being around guys and gals who did the same things under trying circumstances,” he said, “you get a real feel for country. It gives it a whole new meaning.”
Jorge Gomez is not a veteran, but he hopes to be some day. The 17-year-old marched down Noble Street with the Anniston High School Junior ROTC, something he considers an honor. “It means a lot that we get to wear the same uniform that other, real soldiers wear,” said the ROTC second lieutenant. “It’s a good feeling in you to represent your high school, country, and family.”
Staff writer Paige Rentz: 256-235-3564. On Twitter @PRentz_Star.