The Milton Lewis Young Marines and Color Guard ushered a parade on Saturday that served as a welcome home to United States veterans of the war in Afghanistan.
City of Newberry Mayor Jordan Marlowe served as the grand marshal and he was busy tossing candy from a bright red Jeep decked out in red, white and blue banners. “Go Gators,” he yelled and, “Go America.”
The Gainesville Shrine Club executed their fancy maneuvers, Newberry Commissioners Mark Clark, Tony Mazon, and Monty Farnsworth waved at parade goers lined up along Newberry Road. And Merihelen Wheeler from the Alachua County Board of County Commissioners was perched on the back seat of a red Ford convertible waving American flags and tossing treats to eager recipients.
Buchholz High School Air Force Junior ROTC followed Newberry Watermelon Festival Teen Queen Olivia Thomas who was tossing out red, white and blue beads.
There were more than a dozen vintage automobiles courtesy the Gainesville Street Rods and two new M1152A1 Humvee cargo and troop carrier vehicles in the lineup.
Vietnam veteran Ron Harkins served during the war in 1970-71 and returned from Vietnam on Sept. 23, 1971. He came up from Leesburg on his Harley Davidson to enjoy the parade and be part of the celebration.
“I came home 50 years ago,” Harkins said. “It’s not for us, it’s for them guys. We’re here to welcome them.”
When the parade ended, the celebration continued at Clark Plantation event venue a few miles away.
The vintage cars lined up under a giant heritage live oak tree, the color guard presented arms, a moment of silence was held to recognize lost veterans and local elected officials including Rep. Chuck Clemons, Rep. Yvonne Hayes Hinson, Alachua County Sheriff Clovis Watson, Jr. and Marlowe spoke at the event.
“Thank you to the wonderful men and women who made all of this possible,” Watson, Jr. said. “Thank you to those who go across enemy lines to make us safe. To those who make all the freedoms we enjoy in America. The men and women in uniform, our military, we must honor them.
“Regardless of who the warriors are, regardless of the war, you may hate the war, but you cannot, you should not hate the warriors. If you want to honor the veterans, talk about and be about happiness in being an American.”
Clemons said with Veterans Day coming up in November, today was a day to honor a subset, those who served in Afghanistan. He then asked any Afghanistan veterans to raise their hand and he thanked each one.
“I kneel for our God and I stand for this flag,” Clemons said.
Hinson said that she is the descendant of three veterans. One who served in World War II, one who rose to become a chief petty officer in the United States Navy and one who served in the Air Force in Korea.
“These are my ancestors, to them I pay homage today,” Hinson said.
Speaking about returning Afghanistan veterans, Hinson said, “They have gone to one of the most tumultuous regions of the world, braved a tremendous endeavor and returned home safely.
“We will never be able to properly demonstrate our gratitude to them or the armed forces as they are our great protectors, our patriots, and our heroes.”
Hinson asked attendees to observe a moment of silence for those who died in Afghanistan and said, “Those who lost their lives paid the price for our freedom.”
And then she addressed Vietnam War veterans.
“My classmates went to Vietnam,” Hinson said. “I want to very much show how much I appreciate you. We need to do more of this because service of this level is beyond my comprehension.”