My dad was a small town Southern boy from western Arkansas who built a successful career in the U.S. Army across three decades. As I understand the story, it began when he quit high school in the late 1940s and joined the Army.
For that, he earned a tour of duty in Alaska. But he missed a girl from back home in Booneville, Ark., and mustered out when his commitment was up.
He returned to Arkansas, married the girl and had a child – me – within a year. But running the local gas station wasn’t enough to support a family, so he re-upped in the Army.
This tour lasted until he retired from the military in 1976 and included assignments in Korea, Okinawa and 1969 Vietnam along the way.
I provide all that background because I was over in Fort Smith this past weekend to visit my widowed Mom. She told me she wanted to go to the annual Veterans Day parade at Ft. Chaffee that began at noon on Saturday.
I said ‘sure,’ although without any real enthusiasm or expectations. We picked up my niece, Katy, and headed out to Chaffee, most of which is now known as Chaffee Crossing and under development by the city of Fort Smith.
We found a place to park and walked to what turned out to be sort of Parade Central, which was right outside the military barbershop where Elvis received his haircut as he was inducted into the Army. It’s now a pretty fascinating little museum, which we toured.
For me, the interesting thing about the parade, which lasted about an hour, was watching the crowd and how the veterans among us reacted when various elements marched by. Local Junior ROTC troops marched by carrying American flags, and the vets snapped to attention.
Those marching in the parade were quick to say “thank you” to the veterans they recognized along the way who were wearing caps or other insignia that identified them as such.
It was a feel good event for both participants and onlookers, punctuated by a large group of motorcyclists who brought up the rear of the parade, came to a halt and dismounted as we watched. The leader commanded us to turn our attention the America flag behind us and led the Pledge of Allegiance.
Turned out, I enjoyed the parade and the people watching. I was so happy that I got to take my mom to see it, even if she decided that it wasn’t as long as the previous parade she attended two years ago. (“There were so many more antique cars in the last parade,” she told me.)
So, to Master Sergeant Archie A.J. Stafford and all your fellow veterans, I salute you and your incredible sacrifice for this country.