“Honor my country, serve my country, cherish my family, and love God,” were the words boasted from the banner of the American Heritage Girls, a Christian-based nonprofit scouting organization. Eight-year-old Elise Stephenson participated in her first Salute to Veterans’ Memorial Day Parade as part of the group.
Monday was the 19th annual parade. The events started off with the landing of the U.S. Army Special Operations Command Parachute Demonstration Team, the Black Daggers. Stephenson’s eyes, however, were drawn in a different direction. She said her favorite part of the parade was “the guy on the bike.”
Bill Wendling, an 80-year-old World War II veteran, has been riding his 1886 bicycle, called the “Columbia Light Roadster,” for 35 years and has been in the Salute to Veterans parade for 19 years. This vintage bicycle is highlighted by its high hollow front tire and small back one. Wendling left his hometown of Altamont, Ill., at 5 a.m. to arrive for the festivities.
Despite the miles, Wendling has no problems making the trip to Columbia. He makes the trip several times a year to go to Truman Veterans Hospital.
“I come here because it is the best one,” Wendling said. “There are five hospitals closer, but I come to this one. They take care of me.”
After the parade, which included 155 groups such as American Heritage Girls, Boy Scouts and marching bands, the Memorial Ceremony was held. At the ceremony, the National Anthem was played followed by the Pledge of Allegiance, and the honored guests were introduced. Col.Charles Edward McGee, a former national president of the Tuskegee Airmen of America, gave a speech.
Finally, a wreath ceremony was held, which McGee described as a reminder to the world that “we have not forgotten, and we will not forget.” Twenty-four organizations placed wreaths outside of the Boone County Courthouse in honor of those who died in the line of duty. The Boone County Fire Protection District’s Pipes and Drums rendition of “Amazing Grace” concluded the ceremony.
There were 10 honored guests at this year’s military ceremony. One of the honorees, Maj. Gen. Arnold Fields, has been participating in the Salute to Veterans parade for more than five years.
“Columbia is not the place I was born,” he said. “But I feel like a resident, like this is my home, like they are my family.” Fields, an honored guest, served 34 years with the Marine Corps and is now retired.
Nellie Dodd, a Columbia resident, missed the parade once because of a heart transplant.
“It’s very heartwarming and very touching,” she said. “It’s a parade, but it’s more than that.”
The celebration also had an effect on new members of the Columbia community.
Lt. Col. Junio-Omaru Barber, a commander of the U.S. Army Recruiting Battalion, has been in Columbia for 11 months.
“I was brought to tears,” he said.
Robert Coyne, a veteran of the Navy, has been in Columbia for one month.
“It meant a lot,” he said. “It meant a real lot. It made me proud.”