Hinesville’s fourth annual Veterans Day parade moved quickly through the downtown area Monday afternoon while overcast skies threatened rain. This year’s parade was sponsored by the East Liberty County American Legion, Post 321.
This year’s parade was a little shorter and drew a slightly smaller turnout than last year’s procession along Gen. Screven Way and Main Street.
American Legion, Post 321 Commander Dennis Fitzgerald, who confirmed the smaller parade and turnout, said that too many troops still are deployed, which, he said, might have affected the event’s attendance. Additionally, the weather and misinformation likely contributed to the low turnout, according to Fitzgerald.
“I believe the weather kept several groups away,” he said. “I had entries for quite a few more that did not show. Also, someone was putting out the word that the parade was canceled due to the weather. We found (this) out from a lieutenant on the Hinesville Police Department.”
Despite the size of the parade and the crowds watching it, the 3rd Infantry Division’s participation in the parade was equal to previous years. Lt. Col. Gary Belcher, G-7 community relations, said the 3rd ID was represented with its color guard, which was led by Col. John Hort, 3rd ID deputy commanding general-rear, and Command Sgt. Maj. Jimmy Pegues, 3rd ID command sergeant major-rear.
Following the 3rd ID colors were more than 50 soldiers with the 1-3 Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 1st Armor Brigade Combat Team. These soldiers were led by the battalion’s command group, Lt. Col. Jason Garkey and Command Sgt. Maj. Michael Henle.
Before and during the parade, a familiar face mingled with the crowds and distributed American flags. Known simply as “the flag man,” Ted Harris said he’s been giving away flags at patriotic events since 1998.
“I spent five years in the Air Force,” said Harris, who also is known for his floppy red, white and blue, “Uncle Sam” hat. “I was a crew chief (working on) F-4 (Phantoms). In fact, I was one of only a few crew chiefs who worked for all three of the Air Force’s Vietnam-era (fighter pilot) aces.”
Harris said he now receives 100 percent service-connected disability from the Department of Veterans Affairs. Giving out flags at special events is what he lives for and pretty much all he does now, he said.
As the parade proceeded up Main Street, Harris’ flags could be seen waving from the curbs and the bleachers outside the Liberty County Courthouse.
Following behind an HPD escort, the VIP car stopped next to the bleachers, allowing Mayor Jim Thomas and Mayor Pro Tem Charles Frasier to join flag-waving residents. Liberty County Board of Commissioners Chairman-elect Donald Lovette sat nearby, also waving one of Harris’ flags.
A short time later, Fitzgerald joined the VIPs. However, the former Army Ranger walked while other post members rode on one of the floats in the parade. They were followed by representatives of the Disabled American Veterans, the Bradwell Institute marching band and Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps and others.
Liberty County JROTC also participated in the parade, as did classic cars, local fire departments, motorcyclists and horseback riders.
“(A Veterans Day parade) allows the average, everyday citizen to show (his or her) support for the troops,” Fitzgerald said. “It provides a huge sense of pride when a participant sees a young child stand up and place his hand over his heart as the national colors pass, and it lets the younger generation know that all veterans care for each other.”