November 12, 2012 10:03:40 AM
Sarah Fowler - [email protected]
"Left, left, left, right, left."
The strong voice of a soldier carried through the air as hundreds of men and women in uniform marched down the streets of Columbus on Saturday.
Aging men who fought in Vietnam marched shoulder to shoulder with the fresh-faced men and women who deployed to the deserts of Afghanistan and Iraq.
There was a quiet that hung in the air as the crowd watched, clutching American flags in their hands, awe struck in the seemingly effortless symmetry of those marching past.
Then, breaking the silence as quickly as the flags whipping in the wind, the crowd broke into cheers and applause, giving the soldiers a true hero's welcome.
The days of war are but a fleeting thought to the average American citizen but on Saturday morning, as the veterans of wars past and present stood at attention on the courthouse lawn, it was abundantly clear that war is an ever-present thought among them.
From the months-long deployments away from their families on foreign soil to the hospital beds of Walter Reed Hospital, most men and women in uniform live a life that few Americans can imagine.
Saturday morning, citizens of Columbus took a moment to say, "thank you" to those who have often sacrificed their own personal freedoms so Americans could continue to call themselves, "The land of the free."
Air Force veteran Bob Boland is all too familiar that there is a price for freedom.
Boland served in the United States Air Force from 1954 to 1976 as a fighter pilot. He flew numerous planes over his 20-year career, including the F-86, F-101, F-102 and the F-4.
He said he marched in Saturday's parade to pay tribute to those who gave the ultimate sacrifice.
"I'm here in memory of those who fought and never came back," he said.
Wearing his uniform from over 30 years ago, Boland became emotional as he briefly spoke of his time in Vietnam.
Deployed to the jungles of Vietnam in 1965, Boland lost two of his best friends within 90 days of arriving in Southeast Asia.
He began to speak of his fallen friend, George Norton, but his voice trailed off mid-sentence before finally he added, "It's been a long time."
Boland regained his composure and spoke forcefully of the importance of remembering those who have fought and died.
"The fact that I came back and they didn't, I'm going to march and pay tribute to them."
In addition to the retired fighter pilot, other Vietnam veterans stood among men and women who recently returned from Iraq.
The Alpha Battery 114 Field Artillery Regiment stood at attention as numerous veterans addressed the crowd, telling their own personal stories of what it means to serve.
The 114 Field Artillery returned home from Iraq in 2010. The regiment performed more than 350 missions and returned without a single causality from its unit.
As veteran Charlie Underhill placed a flag on an empty chair for those Missing In Action and Prisoners Of War, a ripple of emotion moved through the crowd.
As the crowd took a moment of silence to observe the 11th minute of the 11th hour, two T-6 Talons flew overhead. The sea of uniforms, from the Army to the Navy to the Air Force to the Marines to the Coast Guard presented a picture of unity as they watched in silence. While they may have served in different branches, the men and women of the United States Military served with honor and dignity.
It was something worth celebrating.
Sarah Fowler covered crime, education and community related events for The Dispatch.