“Oh, look! There he is!” Peggy Norred cried to her daughter, Phyllis Williams, and grandson Jordan Patterson as she spotted Gwin driving the navy-blue antique.
“He’s been decorating that car for two weeks now,” Williams said, waving back at her stepfather and pointing to the red, white and blue flags, bows and ribbons that adorned the hood, bumpers and doors.
Patterson lifted into the air a white poster that saluted his grandfather, a Korean War veteran, with the words “We support our veteran: Gwin Norred.”
Williams said she’s attended the Veterans Day Parade on Noble Street since the parade committee first sponsored the event a few years ago. The patriotic music, closed street and holiday fanfare drew a lot of people last year, Williams and Patterson agreed. But the crowds lining Noble Street from Eighth to 17th streets Thursday afternoon were “the most people I’ve ever seen” Williams said.
The parade featured Pearl Harbor survivors as the grand marshals, followed by representatives from various other military and community groups. The Pearl Harbor veterans rode in an Army vehicle provided by the Alabama Army National Guard, while groups such as the American Legion, several motorcycle clubs and local law-enforcement agencies walked or drove their vehicles. Veterans and their family members who wanted to watch rather than participate sat on bleachers set up at the intersection of Noble and 11th streets to hear the emcee announce the groups as they passed by.
Cheers went up as the Veterans of Foreign Wars’ motorcyclists rode by, revving their engines. People hollered when Anniston Army Depot lieutenant colonels made their way down the street in a Stryker vehicle. And bystanders erupted into applause at the sight of the Anniston High School’s junior ROTC and marching band.
Army veteran Carl Buttke said he, like the Norred family, was impressed by the parade and the crowds that came to watch it.
“This is all pretty good, a lot, a lot of people. I’m just watching all these people,” said Buttke, who served in the Army for 20 years before retiring to Anniston in 1986.
Micke Gehman, a 58-year-old Anniston resident and Iraq War veteran, also said she’s never seen so many people out and about on Veterans Day.
Gehman said she attended last year’s parade, too, and has participated in the Veterans Day memorial at Centennial Memorial Park every year for the past several years.
“I think the events are very important,” she said. “To see so many people here … say thanks, it makes me think of things I’ve gone through and people I’ve known in the military who aren’t here.”
Gehman joined the Army as a 27-year-old California resident who was tired of her job as security guard. She wanted to rise above the negativity she said people showed toward veterans when she grew up during the Vietnam War.
Events like Thursday morning’s ceremony and parade excite Gehman because she feels like people honor veterans now. Throughout the ceremony at Centennial Memorial Park, Gehman said her mind was on her 2003 deployment to Kuwait.
“I keep remembering the past,” she said quietly.
Vietnam veteran Joe Locklear was also living in the past as he watched Calhoun County Probate Judge Alice Martin sing the National Anthem to open the 11 a.m. memorial ceremony.
The patriotic lyrics coupled with the speeches and 21-gun salute that followed took Locklear back to the canals and bridges that he helped build during his service in Vietnam.
“I would go back (in the military) today if I was needed,” he said, touching the stars and stripes pattern on his baseball cap. “I’m 60, and I’d go anywhere in the world to help protect and serve.”
Locklear said he was surprised and humbled by the number of people who showed up at Centennial Memorial Park for the morning ceremony.
“It’s a great honor,” he said.
Event organizer Ken Rollins said the only hitch in the Thursday morning ceremony arose when 11 a.m. came and went and ceremony attendees had no chairs to sit in — chairs that were supposed to have been furnished by the city, Rollins said.
Mayor Gene Robinson began his remarks at the ceremony with an apology for the missing chairs.
Still, Rollins said, the omission didn’t affect the overall meaning of the event.
“While we’re out here enjoying the sunshine, others are out there ducking bullets,” he said.
“I’m thinking about the guys out there that didn’t come back and the ones now that are coming back with missing limbs,” he said.
Star staff writer Cameron Steele: 256-235-3562.