With the surrender of Germany to the Allies on November 11, 1918, celebrations of that Armistice Day were formalized by the next year and celebrated until the name of the event was changed in 1954 to Veterans Day. In 1918 a crowd gathered on Gay Street, knowing the treaty would be signed at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. Watching the hands on the clock outside the Hope Brothers Jewelry Store, they cheered as the minute hand hit twelve. The American Legion has organized a parade on Gay Street for just under 100 years.
This year’s version opened under mild temperatures, but with drizzly skies. Lots of umbrellas and ponchos kept people dry initially, but the precipitation stopped as the lengthy parade progressed. Crowds numbered easily in the hundreds but were smaller than previous years.
The parade has become more than just a parade and some of the most powerful imagery comes as it stops outside the viewing stand at the intersection of Wall Avenue and Gay Street. There, elected officials, city county, state, and national gather to witness the swearing in of new recruits as they commit to defend the United States and to obey the orders of the President of the United States. Witnessing the fresh commitment of these young people underscores the youth of those who fight.
In addition to the swearing in, the KPD offers a twenty-one-gun salute and the sounds of “Taps” waft across the silent crowd. A group of young people lift their voices, singing the national anthem. This year a bald eagle spread its wings as it stood witness to the proceedings. After the moving introduction, the parade began.
The parade, much as in years past, included a large collection of related and unrelated participants. The unrelated but supportive groups included a muscle car club, a Mustang car club, a Corvette club, at least two motorcycle clubs and businesses with groups of marchers showing support. Girl scout groups, dancers, and political office holders joined the march. Oddly enough, while there were Republican and Democratic officials represented, only the Democratic party had a group there and, as best I can recall, it’s always been that way.
As in past years, my favorite part of any parade is the marching bands, and this one attracted quite a few. High school marching bands appeared from Carter, South Doyle, Farragut, West, Fulton, Concord Christian, Bearden, and Gibbs. Various ROTC groups from these schools and a wide range of area (some from outside Knoxville) also made appearances.
At the center of it all is respect for the people who have been willing to don the uniform with no certainty as to what might happen or where that might take them. Groups representing each of the branches of service participated, as did groups dedicated to preserving the antique military vehicles they used, including submarines.
Specially honored veterans also rode in the parade and groups working with veterans, such as senior care centers, therapy centers, and more marched. Packing a strong emotional punch each year, the passing of the Gold Star Mothers, representing mothers who experienced a loss most of us can’t imagine.
Captain Bill Robinson, USAF retired, the Grand Marshall for the parade, endured 7 1/2 years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam — and is recognized as the longest held service member in the history of the United States.
In addition to the parade, activities happened throughout the area leading up to that day and the actual anniversary on Saturday. Knox County Mayor Glen Jacobs and U.S. Representative Burchett joined together in a ceremony to honor 101-year-old World War II veteran, Milton Jones.
On a personal note, I’ve mentioned before how “Taps” impacts me and it is even more true after the passing of my father in 2017 and hearing it played at his graveside. Urban Boy participated this year in a walk held at his school in which the students could carry photographs of their family members who served. He carried photographs of his great-grandfathers, Melvin Clements, U.S. Army, and Don Sims (my father), U.S. Navy, as well as his great-uncle Henry Whatley (who currently lives in Knoxville), U.S. Army. We honor them all and it’s important for the young ones to understand the sacrifice of many who have served.
Below, you’ll find the entire group of photos and a link to watch the entire parade, should you wish to do so.