Support from the ‘most military friendly’ city

Veterans Day parade in Columbia honors wounded soldiers

City salutes injured soldiers, Vietnam veterans at Monday’s parade

jwilkinson@thestate.comNovember 12, 2012 

The 34th annual Veterans Day parade in Columbia honored some special guests on Monday – wounded soldiers from Fort Jackson’s Warrior Transition Unit.

[Below the story: Video from Washington, DC, Veterans Day events at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial]

One of them, Sgt. Robert Barthel, 30, lost his right leg below the knee in July of 2008 when a powerful roadside bomb, estimated at 1,000 pounds of explosives, hit the Stryker armored personnel carrier he was riding in near Abu Ghraib, Iraq, north of Baghdad.

“I don’t remember what happened,” he said. “I just remember waking up (in the hospital) in Germany.”

Barthel, a native of Sturgis, Michigan, is presently studying to be an Army career counselor and will complete his 12th year in the service this July.

“I love this,” he said of the parade. “We know the support is there. But when you see it and experience it, it takes on a whole new level of special.”

The parade, which traveled down Sumter Street in the state capital, featured 78 entries, from military equipment to marching bands. And the thousands of people lining the street gave credence to Columbia Mayor Pro Tem Brian DeQuincey Newman’s claim in his opening remarks that “Columbia is dedicated to being the most military friendly city in the country.”

To back up the claim Newman accepted a designation from the S.C. Military Order of the Purple Heart as the state’s first “Purple Heart City.”

The city’s parks & recreation department is partnering with the fort’s Warrior Transition Unit to provide a program of art classes for returning soldiers, many of whom are suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Traumatic Brain Injury. Volunteer artists from the area will conduct the classes twice a month.

Many of the soldiers, like Barthel, have been through multiple deployments in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that had no front lines. The soldiers were constantly on alert for hidden dangers, like roadside bombs or suicide bombers, while overseas and often bring an involuntary high state of alert back home with them.

“The art therapy program is a way to help the soldiers cope with these issues and have a moment to focus on something positive,” said the department’s Brenda Oliver.

Other programs received some monetary support from online retailer, which opened a distribution center in Lexington County last year.

Seven organizations, from the USO of South Carolina to the Adopt a Guardsman Foundation to Honor flight, received grants from $1,000 to $5,000.

“Its part of Amazon’s national commitment to military members and their families,” said the center’s general manager Mike Gatch.

Patrons young and old lined Sumter Street for the midday parade.

One of the youngest was 6-year-old Ian McGehee, who was with more than 100 students from St. Peter’s Catholic School in downtown Columbia.

Teacher brought the students to the parade, his mother, Melanie McGehee said, because they had finished learning about elections and now “We’re moving forward to honoring those who served their country.”

Ian said he liked “waving the flag and listening to the music.”

One of the oldest spectators was 81-year-old retired Sgt. Maj. Robert Price, who served 35 years in the Army. He stood at attention in his formal “dress blues” uniform and saluted every time an U.S. Flag went by.

Price “thankfully” missed being deployed to Korea and Vietnam and showed up Monday to honor those who were deployed into combat zones.

The parade “shows patriotism and dedication to our great nation,” he said.

Vietnam veterans participated in and attended the parade in large numbers. And this year members of the Columbia chapter of Vietnam Veterans of America even served as grand marshals, an honor usually reserved for top military brass or politicians.

“That is nice to see because we’re kind of a forgotten group, I guess,” said Richard Dent, a Vietnam-era veterans of the U.S. Air Force, “compared to the guys from Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Video: Veterans Day events at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial

For only the fifth time in its history, each of the 58,282 names inscribed on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial was read. The ceremony celebrated the 30th anniversary of the memorial. (Video by Adam Jabari Jefferson, Medill News Service)

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