Liberty County’s first-ever Veterans Salute kicked off at 10 a.m. Saturday with the annual Veterans Day parade through downtown Hinesville. The parade was followed by the salute at Bryant Commons, which included live entertainment, food, arts-and-crafts vendors and children’s games.
Families with little ones and even a few pets gathered along the curbside on Main Street in anticipation of the parade. Spc. Anndre Barlowe, a medic with the 3rd Infantry Division’s 2nd Armor Brigade Combat Team, stayed busy trying to keep Jackson, her beagle-mix dog, and her daughters out of the street. Kaylan Curry, 4, and Adyson Curry, 2, waved American flags that were as big as they are while their mom reminded them to stay seated.
Most folks waiting for the procession to begin said they thought a parade the Saturday after Veterans Day was a bit unusual, but they understood that the purpose of delaying the parade was to support the Veterans Salute.
“I don’t think it’s unusual to have it on a Saturday, but I think it’s unusual to have it after Veterans Day,” retired 1st Sgt. Andrew Williams said. “I know we live in an area that’s heavily populated with veterans. I think getting the word out to veterans that they’re appreciated is important.”
This year’s parade was led by Dennis Fitzgerald, commander of the American Legion Post 321, which organized the parade. He was followed by 3rd ID Commander Maj. Gen. Mike Murray, the 3rd ID color guard, the 3rd ID band and at least a platoon-sized element of 3rd ID soldiers. Each unit followed closely behind the other this year with no large gaps between groups.
Fitzgerald said he thinks this year’s parade went well, adding the weather was close to perfect.
“We had 27 units in the parade,” said Fitzgerald, a retired Army Ranger. “I (only) had three that didn’t show, which is good. They were a little tighter than I wanted them to be, but it turned out good. Next year, we’ll do even better.”
Immediately following the parade, families and couples headed over to Bryant Commons, where vendors already were set up in front of the amphitheater in a semi-circle surrounding around it.
Hinesville Downtown Development Authority Executive Director Vicki Davis assisted and advised the Hinesville Military Affairs Committee, which sponsored the event as a fundraiser for a Veterans Memorial Walk to be built at Bryant Commons. A half hour before the opening ceremony, she walked around the event area, nodding her head in approval of the event’s organization.
“We’ve been holding events here for about seven months now,” Davis said. “This time, we decided to set up vendors around the perimeter. I think it works better.”
Davis explained that the HDDA manages the venues at Bryant Commons. She didn’t mind helping HMAC organize the event, with additional assistance from Liberty County Chamber of Commerce CEO Leah Poole.
Georgia State Sen. Buddy Carter, R-Pooler, wandered around the grounds before the opening ceremony. He said he heard about the event several months ago and wanted to check it out. Carter also took part in the parade.
“I loved the parade, but this is wonderful,” he said. “We are so thankful for our military. We need to do this type of events more often to show our support ... It’s because of our veterans that we’re able to be here today.”
As a prelude to the live entertainment to come, Armstrong Atlantic State University’s Gospel Choir performed several numbers before the 3rd ID band moved onto the stage in preparation for the national anthem. Col. Peter Hoffman, director of Armstrong’s Liberty Center, said he was pleased the choir was able to participate in and support the event and proud to be part of Veterans Salute.
“I think this is the start of a great tradition,” said Hoffman, a retired Army officer. “It’s a perfect way to honor our veterans, and it’s great for the community.”
At noon, a squad of guest speakers moved onto the stage. Most of them — including Hinesville First United Methodist Church Pastor Dr. Richard Wright, who led the invocation — are veterans or are serving in the military. Following the invocation, City Councilman and HMAC President David Anderson introduced Mayor Jim Thomas, County Commission Chairman Donald Lovette, Murray and Carter.
Murray said the timing of Veterans Salute couldn’t have been better because Marne Week is this week. He said the 3rd ID is celebrating its 96 birthday, and Veterans Salute was a great way to honor all 3rd ID soldiers and other veterans, past and present.