Mother Nature may have conspired to rain on Raleigh’s Veterans Day parade Saturday, but the sodden celebration did not dampen the enthusiasm of many veterans thankful for their opportunity to serve.
Pascal Lecuire was grateful despite having faced a particularly formidable foe on a recent deployment: the Ebola virus.
A commander in the U.S. Commissioned Corps of the U.S. Public Health Service, one of the nation’s seven uniformed services, Lecuire’s unit deployed to Liberia, providing health care to health care providers who contracted Ebola during the outbreak in the West African nation.
“It was one of the greatest things I ever had the opportunity to do,” said Lecuire, who works as a physician assistant at the federal prisons in Butner when not deployed. “I had the opportunity to help human beings and to help the world. I was scared, but it was worth it, and I would do it again.”
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Other veterans echoed Lecuire’s sentiments that the opportunity to serve can carry more rewards than the services rendered.
John Odom, a Raleigh councilman, served in the Army in Vietnam in 1967-68. He said the most important lesson he gained was teamwork.
“It is unbelievably important,” Odom said. “You can’t do it yourself. You need other people to help you.”
Odom spoke from underneath an umbrella, the most commonly deployed weapon against Saturday’s relentless morning rain. Marchers and onlookers could take solace in the 70-degree weather, above average for a November morning.
I had the opportunity to help human beings and to help the world. I was scared, but it was worth it, and I would do it again.
Pascal Lecuire, who deployed to Liberia to help fight Ebola
Fayetteville Street was host to a procession of Cub Scouts, Girl Scouts, high school ROTC clubs, motorcycles, vintage cars, veterans, their families and the perennially percussive Helping Hand Mission Marching Band.
One of the marchers was Luther Williams, who served six years in the Army and 28 years in the National Guard, in the Vietnam War, Operation Desert Storm and the Iraq War.
“It gave me a great appreciation of what counts in the world,” Williams said. “It’s a sensational feeling to have served the world’s best country.”
One of Williams’ friends was Bob Allen, who said the Army instilled pride and discipline in him. Allen said he has only begun to appreciate his service in recent years. He recalls returning from Vietnam in 1969 to antiwar protests, not a welcome.
“It took me 30 years to come out,” Allen said. “When I first marched in a Veterans Day parade about five years ago, I had tears streaming down my face from all the people thanking and acknowledging us.”
Allen said that experience left him determined to give back to younger veterans, which he is doing through the American Legion.
“Now is the time to give back,” he said.
Veterans Day began as Armistice Day, commemorating the end of hostilities in World War I, then regarded as “the war to end all wars.” Armistice became a federal holiday in 1938, and became Veterans Day in 1954 to honor veterans of all American wars, including World War II and the Korean War.
Anthony Bonapart, 57, of Garner traveled to many countries involved in past wars, working as a canine officer tasked with detecting explosives for the Air Force Security Forces. Bonapart served in South Korea, Turkey, Liberia, Senegal, Ivory Coast and all around Europe.
“It has made me appreciate America more and more,” Bonapart said.
For Wade Gutreuter, 51, of Garner, Veterans Day is about remembrance.
“When you join the military, you write a blank check up to and including your life,” said Gutreuter, a Navy and Army veteran who served in Desert Storm in 1991 and did two tours in the Iraq War. “We need to focus on those who made the ultimate sacrifice.”
Bob Carter, 66, of Garner credits the Army with making him the man he is today. A Vietnam veteran, he said the military gave structure to his life when he was a somewhat aimless 20-year-old.
“I learned that there was something out there bigger than myself.”