GUEST COLUMN: Origins of Hartselle’s Veterans ParadePublished 11:07am Wednesday, November 6, 2013
The idea of a Veterans Parade began when two of my friends, Cleo Stubbs and Robert Dotson were in my office one afternoon, talking about their experiences in the Vietnam War. Cleo was from South Georgia and Robert was from Eva. As they described their service, it turned out that they were in the Army in the exact same place at the same time. They reminisced about their common hardships and the range of emotions that they still feel today. As a person who never served, this was a realization that the bonds between veterans, in peace and in war, are strong, even 45 years later. Their conversations eventually turned to the reception that they both received upon their arrival back to the United States. They were greeted with disdain and scorn. I had heard the stories of the West Coast hippies spitting on returning soldiers from back then, but thought it only to be an isolated event that had been retold. It was real and happened to two of my friends, and probably countless others.
On Veterans Day, 2010, Cleo, Robert, and I discussed the lack of an active parade for veterans around Hartselle, and to my knowledge there hadn’t been one. Hartselle has many citizens that are veterans. Our proximity to Huntsville and the Defense industries there have made our town a great community for former soldiers to live and work. To their credit, the Hartselle Junior High School has had a veterans program for many years and the community should be very proud of their tradition. There was also an annual Veterans Day parade in Decatur, but was perceived locally as more of a city event for them. That event has been moved to Priceville as a Morgan County event with the recent construction of the Memorial Park.
We thought it would be a good idea to hold our own Veterans Day Parade in Hartselle for the local veterans. We each reached out to other veterans that we knew and asked if they would help us put one on. The first committee involved the three of us, Brian White, Gene Wilson, Dwaine Howard, Suzy McEuen, and several others. The response was overwhelmingly positive and we got underway, except that none of us had ever done a parade before. I had run a Christmas Parade many years ago when I was in the Jaycees in the early 1990’s, but this was different. The Christmas Parade has a long tradition in town and everyone knows when and where it goes. This was a new thing and it was being run by a committee of volunteers with no experience.
As it turns out, the previously forgotten military experience took over these veterans, and in short order, schedules, graphs, and procurement orders were drafted. Plans, otherwise known as “missions”, were carried out efficiently with precision. Guest speakers needed to be invited, a program needed to be put together, and a parade had to be organized. Throughout 2010, we met once a month to go over meticulous plans for the event. It was a truly grass-roots effort as the primary expenses were covered by the three of us. We bought insurance for the parade, porta-johns for the crowds, and food for the Morgan County Cattlemen to cook for the veterans.
The first parade was November 11th, 2011. It was a great success and a lot of people turned out to see it. Veterans Day fell on Saturday that year, and it worked out for everyone to participate. We had a lot of help and great participation. The Hartselle High School, Falkville High, and Danville High bands all marched and played patriotic music. Main Street was covered in flags and banners. The unofficial theme was “Welcome Home and Thanks for Your Service”. We realized during the event from the comments of both the men and women veterans that this was the only welcome home they ever got from Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Several came to us individually with tears in their eyes thanking us for what we had done. A few years late, but a new tradition had begun.
Since that first parade, many things have changed. We have since learned that there had been two earlier parades on Veterans Day in Hartselle, one for the returning Korean War veterans and one in the 1980’s. In 2012, the City of Hartselle has adopted the event as an official municipal function, meaning that the City of Hartselle helps to put it on. They cover the event with insurance and the porta-johns are brought from the farmers’ market for the crowds. We still buy the hot dogs and condiments for the Morgan County Cattlemen to cook, so they can give them out to the veterans that want one. Doug Moss has graciously volunteered every year with a PA system for the program. The Cattlemen Cook Team donates their time and effort as well. What started as a good idea has become a community event that everyone can appreciate. Although Veteran’s Day is on November 11th every year, the committee decided that a lot of veterans would not be off of work then, so the Saturday closest to the 11th would be the date.
The 3rd Annual Hartselle Area Veterans Parade begins on Saturday, Nov. 9th, with displays at 9:00AM in front of the Depot on Railroad Street. The program begins at 10 a.m., and the parade begins at 11 a.m. The event is free for anyone to participate and attend.
Lee Y. Greene Jr. serves on the Hartselle Veterans Parade Committee.