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Veterans honored with parade
Participants disappointed with turnout
Boy Scouts make their way along the parade route. - photo by Photo by Lawrence Dorsey
The sun’s first rays cast an early morning glow on Hinesville’s streets Saturday as onlookers huddled under frost-covered trees to watch the city’s second annual Veterans Day parade.
Residents gathered on sidewalks, braving 40-degree temperatures to extend a warm thanks to returning troops and veterans. Even though chilly weather likely kept a few bystanders away, the parade, hosted by the East Liberty County American Legion Post 321, appeared to go off without a hitch.
Post 321 Cmdr. Dennis Fitzgerald said that while the crowd turnout was disappointing, especially to participating veterans, the response from veterans and marchers was positive and energetic.
“Everyone who I spoke to enjoyed it,” said Fitzgerald, who marched the 2.3-mile route.
Several active duty soldiers thanked him for coordinating the event, but the commander said the heart and soul of the parade is dedicated to those who never received a homecoming after previous wars.
“I did it mainly for them,” he said of older veterans. “But, we still thank all the vets.”
Fifteen veterans groups participated Saturday and 360 3rd ID soldiers chanted cadences as they strolled through neighborhoods and past local businesses.
The Bradwell Institute marching band’s rousing rendition of America the Beautiful was followed by shouted commands and responses from the school’s JROTC cadets.
“This is a military family community. It is nice to get together and show our support and let them know we care about them,” military wife Michelle Lopez said.
Lopez propped up chairs with her 12-year-old son, Dominick, to watch the parade on South Main Street and sat bundled in blankets, fuzzy mittens and hats with hot beverages in hand.
She said she came out to show her appreciation of veterans and to watch her two sons, Christian, 17, and Nicholas, 15, march with the Bradwell Institute JROTC.
Her husband is currently on his third deployment with the 1st Brigade, but is expected to return home around the first of December.
“Veterans Day just means remembering all the men and women who are serving,” Lopez said. “To remember them and to thank them for making this country what it is, because without them, we wouldn’t have our freedoms.”
Drivers of fire trucks, police vehicles and Army Humvees waved to bystanders watching from behind orange cone barricades on the sides of the roads.
Screaming sirens and tooting horns elicited smiles and waves from small children wrapped in scarves, sweaters and hats, some carrying stuffed animals under their arms.
Dave Radovich stood on a sunny patch of sidewalk, snapping photos of his 6-year-old twin boys, Jack and Peter, who were dressed in matching heavy Boeing jackets. 
Their mother, Maj. Kay Wakatake, with the Judge Advocate Generals Corps, has been stationed overseas since last June. Although Radovich said he isn’t sure when she will come home, he wanted his boys to understand the importance of thanking veterans and welcoming home 3rd ID troops.
“We wanted to come out and show our support and take photos to e-mail to her,” Radovich said. “I had the boys salute the soldiers as they walked by.”
Even with few audience members, Fitzgerald has high hopes and is already planning for next year’s parade, which may be an evening event, he said.
“As long as I’m around,” he said, “this parade will continue.”
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