Spectators young and old lined the street Friday afternoon as Liberty County’s annual Veterans Day took place, waving flags while bands from Bradwell Institute, Liberty County High School and the 3rd Infantry Division marched past playing patriotic tunes.
There were JROTC cadets on foot and a dignitary or two on wheels.
But the highlight was easily the veterans themselves, who walked or rolled past in everything from a restored World War II-era jeep to sports bikes so loud at least one kid ran for cover and had to be comforted by a Hinesville Police Department officer.
And then it was over, but not before the parade hopefully did what organizers intended it to do.
“This is to show veterans that we care for them,” said Dennis Fitzgerald, commander of the parade’s sponsor this year, the East Liberty County American Legion Post 321. “It’s also to show the young troops serving now that veterans of the past are there for them and their families.”
Fitzgerald, who wore a vest bedecked with everything from combat jump wings to ribbons earned during tours of combat duty in Vietnam and Desert Storm, said such parades also aim to spread a message of duty and patriotism.
“A veteran is a veteran, and we’re here to take care of veterans” he said. “But we’re also here to help the younger generation grow and learn about this great country.”
Yet such parades weren’t always the case. That’s why Bertha Windom said she attended Friday’s parade. Her brothers, Johnnie Gaulden and the late Ernest Gaulden, both served in Vietnam. So did a “special friend,” Joseph Blocker.
They didn’t come home to applause and waving flags, and there were few parades for soldiers after that long ago war. WIndom said seeing Vietnam veterans involved in parades now is healing the soldiers.
Maybe they’re healing for those who love them, too. Like Windom.
“These parades are important because so many veterans did not get the treatment they deserved when they came home,” she said. “Hopefully these parades will give them a better feeling about themselves. So many suffered so much from that war, and still suffered after coming home.”
Former Hinesville Mayor Jim Thomas knows that score. A retired Green Beret who also served with the Army rangers and 82ndAirborne Division, Thomas spent two tours in Vietnam.
He said parades such as the one that marched past he and others Friday do matter, both for those serving now who’ll one day be veterans and those no longer on active duty.
“It’s critically important to me to see these guys who serve and those who served get recognized for what they do, the commitment they have to have and the time they spend away from their families, the overall care and safety they provide to us, it’s important to recognize that once or twice a year, or more,” Thomas said.
He, too, knew soldiers who came home from Vietnam scarred. He served with them.
“There are friends of mine who had severe mental problems when they came home. They didn’t like to be around people, and they didn’t want to discuss things or talk about what caused them to be that way,” Thomas said, after the last of the parade had made its way past for another year.
Then he finished his thought.
“It’s just a parade, but it means a lot,” he said.