Montgomery, AL – On Friday, October 8, the Alabama National Fair kicked off with a salute to America’s veterans at Montgomery’s Garrett Coliseum. This year’s theme was a “Welcome Home Celebration to Vietnam Veterans,” a chance to finally thank them for their military service over 30 years ago.
A parade made its way to the coliseum around 5:30 PM for the outdoor opening ceremony. Civic, state, and military dignitaries were in attendance including Governor Bob Riley, Montgomery Mayor Todd Strange, and Lt. General Harold G. Moore.
Moore, 87, retired from the Army as a 3 Star General in 1977 with over 32 years of active service. He has been described as one of the best tactical leaders the US has seen in the past century.
Upon Moore’s arrival in an army jeep at the Coliseum, Riley and other dignitaries greeted him. The Army Band and the Huntingdon Band played patriotic tunes, a C130 military plane flew over the crowd, and the ceremony moved inside to the Coliseum stage.
The presentation of the Colors was given by the Sons of the Revolution, followed by the Pledge of Allegiance and a formal introduction of dignitaries and speakers. Strange welcomed everyone to the celebration.
“On behalf of all of the River Region’s mayors, country commissioners, chairmen, and city councilmen, let me just welcome you to this great occasion,” Strange told the crowd.
Strange also stated that Montgomery Police Chief Art Baylor, in addition to his duties as chief, was also the President of the Fair this week. The mayor then introduced Riley who spoke about how the nation did not pay tribute to these veterans upon their return from the war.
“It is my pleasure to be around some of America’s greatest heroes, our Vietnam veterans,” said Riley. “For too long our nation did not honor your service.”
“When you came back, there were no parades … there were no floats … no bands… it took a long time. But, fortunately I think that has changed because today we look back on it at a different level of appreciation.”
After the governor’s speech, Moore took the microphone and was genuinely touched to be there among so many of his comrades.
“This is a privilege beyond words,” Moore said. “Our lives have been made possible by those who cannot stand with us, but whose memories live on.”
Moore is the recipient of the Distinguished Service Cross, which is the second highest military decoration of the United States Army and is best known for being in command during the Battle of la Drang in 1965, well detailed in his 1992 book We Were Soldiers Once … And Young.
A medley of service hymns (recognizing all branches of military service) was provided by Lela Brown (of Prattville) and the Grace Notes and there was also a Gold Star Salute to Vietnam veterans.
The Gold Star Wives of America, Inc is an organization of military widows/widowers whose spouse died while on active duty or from service connected disabilities. This military survivors organization has been in existence since 1945 and received a federal charter from Congress on December 4, 1980.
The celebration ended with a placing of a wreath in front of the monument at the stage to honor all Vietnam vets (alive and deceased) while a rendition of “Taps” was played.
The Fair continues through Sunday, October 18.
Article by Melissa Parker
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