With flags in hand and many huddled under blankets, hundreds lined the streets of downtown Columbus and Phenix City on Saturday for the 10th annual Veterans Day Parade that also marked another important time in history for the community.
Veterans Day is the 100th anniversary of the armistice that ended World War I in 1918, but it’s also the centennial of the Fort Benning Infantry School, formerly Camp Benning, said Brig. Gen. David Hodne, commandant of the Infantry School at the Maneuver Center of Excellence.
“As we honor veterans and honor service, we must also honor this community,” Hodne said from the Broadway median between 11th and 12th Streets. Camp Benning raised its flag on farm land along Macon Road.
Retired Army Col. John House is now serving the at-large District 10 post on Columbus Council. “It is very special for this region,” he said. “We wouldn’t be what we are without Fort Benning. It’s been part of the community a long time.”
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In addition to speakers, the parade featured marching bands, fire trucks, civic groups and others. The event has continued to grow over the years, said Columbus Councilor Jerry “Pops” Barnes, a retired Army master sergeant who started the event in 2009.
“This community is so pro veterans,” Barnes said. “I just love this community. The synergy between Columbus and Fort Benning is a marvelous thing. I was talking to the general a few weeks ago and it’s a family between Fort Benning, Columbus and Phenix City.”
U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop Jr., D-Albany, said America is great because of great men and women who fought for freedom. “Today is our celebration of Veterans Day,” he said. ”We are so blessed we can say our veterans have paid the price for the freedom we enjoy in the United States. It may be chilly but they have been in places colder than this.”
Charlie Stevens, 76, said he doesn’t miss the annual parade to honor veterans. He served two tours in Vietnam with the 9th Infantry Division as a combat engineer in Cam Ranh Bay and the Mekong Delta.
“I did not ask for a second tour,” he said. “That is the reason I got out.”
The day also brought back memories for retired Army Sgt. 1st Class Willie Watt. He was serving at Fort Hood, Texas, before he was deployed to Saudi Arabia in 1990 after Iraq invaded Kuwait.
“I am from Columbus and I like the Veterans Day parade every year,” he said.