Shortly before the fourth annual Veterans Day Parade moved through downtown Columbus, the commander of the Maneuver Center of Excellence at Fort Benning focused on the strong relationship the Army has built with Columbus and Phenix City.
“We are so privileged to be part of this community,” Maj. Gen. H. R. McMaster told a crowd gathered near a reviewing stand Saturday at 11th Street. “We thank you for your support for our soldiers and our families. That connection is important because in our Democracy it’s important for our Army to be connected to those in whose name we fight.”
McMaster, who took command of Fort Benning in June for then Maj. Gen. Robert Brown, joined Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson, newly elected Phenix City Mayor Eddie Lowe and others as thousands stood along streets in the bi-cities to recognize veterans for service to their country and communities.
In his relationship with the community, McMaster said he has continued the work of leaders serving before him. “It is a priority, number one,” he said.
As the nation pays tribute to all veterans on Monday, the commander asked the crowd to remember all soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines still fighting a war in Afghanistan. Many men and women volunteer to serve, knowing there will separations from families, sacrifices and other hardships. “It’s hard to understand that sometimes we focus on the hard stuff about serving and don’t realize what a privilege it is to be part of something bigger than yourself,” he said. Col. Timothy Lamb, commander of Martin Army Community Hospital, said he and McMaster signed a covenant Nov. 2 to support all ill, injured and wounded soldiers at the Warrior Transition Battalion.
“We signed a covenant to commit ourselves,” Lamb said. “We also realize it’s a partnership deeply engaged from the support from the community.”
State Sen. Ed Harbison, a combat Marine veteran of Vietnam, said visions about war aren’t just shooting, arms and explosions. Serving is also about overcoming elements, the leeches, walking in rice patties and dropping a halazone tablet in water black as your shoes before drinking it. “It’s about resolving your mind to get the job done,” Harbison said.
Dressed in an Army tee shirt, camouflage pants and shiny black combat boots, former Sgt. Luis Patron said said he couldn’t miss the parade started by Columbus Councilor Jerry “Pops” Barnes. “I had to support them,” said Patron who served 13 years with the 1st Infantry Division, The Big Red One. Parlee Crowell of Columbus was at the parade to remember her son, Gunnery Sgt. Bruce Crowell, a Marine who died of multiple sclerosis in 2008 after contracting an illness during the Gulf War.
“I kept him for nine years,” said Crowell, whose hair was wrapped in a scarf similar to an American flag. “They said he picked up this chemical and had MS. At first they thought he was drunk while going to the mess hall. I was called and told he was going to be put out of the Marines. I went through so much at the time.”
Her son, 32, was buried at Fort Mitchell National Cemetery, she said.