Faye Gardner called them up and one by one, then in small groups, the men left their lawn chairs under the shade of the big old trees and lined up in front of Gardner.
They kept coming and just kept coming.
“They” were Garner’s veterans. They were called to the front of a gathering at the Veterans Memorial on Memorial Day to receive medals from the town.
It is simplistic to say only that the number was impressive. It was downright staggering. Garner, you may or may not know, hasn’t always been this big. In fact judging from how old some of the veterans seemed, I suspect it’s fair to say Garner was a downright tiny community when they were in military service.
There were so many veterans there that organizers quickly ditched their plans to have Mayor Ronnie Williams put a medal around each veteran’s neck. We’d still be at Lake Benson Park observing Memorial Day right now if they had stuck with that plan.
Eqiually impressive was watching the veterans react when when the colors were retired at the end of the ceremony.
After each veteran received their medal, they gathered in front of the memorial for a loosely organized group photograph. They stayed there after the photo to watch the colors being retired.
As they cadre of guards picked up the flag from its place near the end of a row of chairs, veterans arms flew up to their foreheads as they saluted the passing flag.
Their arms stayed in salute form until the flags were gone from the field.
Those salutes weren’t practiced and rehearsed as part of the spectacle of a Memorial Day celebration.
They were spontaneous and engrained in the soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines who made them. Old habits die hard. Of that, you can be sure.
Last week, as I looked through the photographs I took at the event, one stood out to me. In it, the teenaged members of the color guard walked at attention with the center guard member holding the flag. Behind them, was a row of people that filled the rest of the frame. From one person to the next, their arms were pointed in salute.
It was a sight to see, I’ll be honest.
Some of the men offering up those salutes volunteered for the military service. Some were drafted and pressed into military service.
But all of them served and all of them did their best to accomplish their missions and protect this country.
Mayor Ronnie Williams, echoing remarks he made at the 2013 Memorial Day observance, said he thought 5,000 people should have been present for Monday’s observance.
They weren’t all there, though. And that’s too bad. One look at the lineup of old soldiers who now call Garner home would have made a lasting impression on every single one of those 5,000 people.
And only a person with the most calloused of hearts would have been able to walk away unimpressed by the collective experiences those veterans representated. From war time or peace time, miiltary service those folks provided made it possible for Garner to become the vibrant exciting place it is now.