Robeson County residents on Monday turned out at multiple events to honor the men and women who have defended this country while preserving our freedom.
In Pembroke, the annual Veterans Day parade included 60 entries and stretched from Pembroke Elementary School to the end of Main Street. The event kicked off at 10 a.m. and brought hundreds of spectators to downtown Pembroke.
“We veterans just love this,” Wilton Hunt, a U.S. Air Force veteran, said. “But you just can’t give enough back to your country.”
Hunt watched his son Gavin march with fellow members of Lumberton High School’s Junior ROTC program.
“It was a good parade and it seemed like more people came out this year,” Celia Clark said. Her daughter, Hannah, was marching with South Robeson High School’s Junior ROTC. ROTC students from Red Springs, Fairmont and St. Pauls high schools also participated.
A series of floats constructed by local organizations and businesses were among the first to make it down Main Street. On the bed of a float designed by the Lumbee Tribe’s Boys and Girls Club, a circle of children banged drums and chanted. People dressed as pigs tossed candy from the back of a float sponsored by Fullers BBQ.
The audience cheered when students from the Magnolia Elementary marching band came into view moments later.
“I love seeing the kids each year,” said Evonia Locklear, owner of Potter’s House Christian Bookstore on Main Street. For the past 15 years, Locklear has watched the parade from her storefront.
“If it was not for our veterans, we wouldn’t have what we do today,” she said.
A line of fire trucks, police cars and utility vehicles closed out the parade at about 10:40 a.m.
Though he was mostly satisfied with the parade, spectator Tony Jacobs had a suggestion.
“I think they did a pretty good job,” he said. “But they might want to consider doing this on a Saturday next year, since I know a lot of people who didn’t get the day off work.”
Veterans Day, formerly known as Armistice Day, was originally set as a U.S. legal holiday to honor the end of World War I, which officially took place on Nov. 11, 1918. Congress eventually struck out the word “armistice” and inserted the word “veterans.” On June 1, 1954, Nov. 11 became a day to honor American veterans of all wars.
In Lumberton, the local chapter of Disabled American Veterans held a ceremony in the garden behind the Robeson County Public Library in Lumberton.
Sgt. Maj. Nicolino Parisi spoke to a crowd of about 30 in front of flags and gravestones dedicated to veterans of each war.
Parisi, who has 32 years of deployment experience, expressed his gratitude for other veterans, especially noting those who have volunteered to serve since 9/11, calling them “another greatest generation.”
“[Veterans Day] is much more than a day of symbolism,” he said. “It’s a day to say thank you for your sacrifices.”
He compared the bond among America’s servicemen and women to the interwoven, resilient roots of California’s redwood forest.
“We draw on one another’s strength,” he said.
Henry Caulder, commander of the Lumberton Chapter of the Disabled American Veterans, presented an American flag to Bradie Locklear, the oldest veteran in attendance.
Locklear, a Lumberton native, is 89 years old. A private first class in the Army, he served in Italy and France during World War II.
“It means a lot,” he said. “It means a lot to be able to be here.”
For Caulder, a former Marine who fought in Vietnam, it’s important to pay gratitude to veterans like Locklear.
“We had a rough war in Vietnam but theirs was rougher,” he said. “It was colder and they didn’t have the equipment that we had. So I honor him, for the cold weather and the way they had to fight.”
Veterans Day is an important sticky note for the nation, according to Caulder.
“It reminds people that freedom is not free,” he said. “A lot of veterans are forgotten … now we’re getting their recognition back through days like this here.”
Member of the Robeson County Honor Guard folded the flag accompanied by a reading from Adolphus Lee Turner, legislative chairman of the Lumberton Chapter of the Disabled American Veterans.
There were Veterans Day events elsewhere in the county on Monday, including in Fairmont, Maxton and St. Pauls.