Scott Woodside had just finished the overnight shift at a local convenience store when he came downtown Saturday morning for Raleigh’s annual Veterans Day Parade.
The burly former Marine sergeant was running on no sleep, energized only by soda, cigarettes and his two puppies, but he said he has come to the parade every year since he moved to Raleigh in 1998 and could sleep later.
“We got to pay our respects,” said Woodside, who served 19 years in the Air Force and Marines, including a tour of duty in Desert Storm. “A lot of guys came before us. My father just died recently; he was in the Navy. All my in-laws were Army or Air Force. I got one nephew in the Army, and one who just retired from the Army.”
Military service is often a family tradition. At a ceremony at the state Capitol after the parade, several speakers told of their own families’ service.
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Gov. Pat McCrory’s father was a World War II veteran, he said, and his cousin was a Vietnam veteran.
To honor veterans like them, McCrory said, the state has undertaken a number of military-friendly measures during his tenure.
There’s now a special court in Harnett County near Fort Bragg for those who run afoul of the law after returning from deployment, focused on treating them for mental health issues and pairing them with older veterans for mentors.
Veterans can also get a special driver’s license, making it easier for them to receive recognition and discounts, and anyone who served on a base in North Carolina and was honorably discharged is eligible for in-state college tuition.
“We want them to stay in North Carolina, and we want them to get a job,” McCrory said. “Because they deserve it.”
U.S. Rep. David Price said more needs to be done nationally to help veterans with health care and employment prospects. He also praised those who are still overseas, dealing with threats including Ebola and the Islamic State.
Ed Wilson, a 37-year-old former Army corporal, knows what those troops are going through. He deployed to Iraq in 2004 as an infantryman.
“It’s disheartening because the towns where we were have all fallen to the Islamic State,” he said, referring to the al-Qaida offshoot that has captured and brutally subjugated swaths of Iraq and Syria.
Now a nurse with WakeMed Health and Hospitals, Wilson said he still supports the military despite his disappointment in the results of the Iraq exit strategy. He was at the parade Saturday with his 4-year-old son Luke, who was experiencing his first Veterans Day parade.
Luke spent much of the parade waving an American flag at the passing cars, bands and Junior ROTC groups.
Some notable entries included a Vietnam-era jeep and trucks owned by Charles Bullock of Knightdale, and a Buick sporting a teddy bear manning a .50-caliber machine gun on top. Driving was Smith Cameron, who manned the guns on UH-1 “Huey” helicopters in Vietnam.
Vietnam veterans appeared to be the largest contingent on hand, both in the parade and along the sparsely populated route through downtown on Lenoir, Fayetteville, Morgan, Salisbury and Edenton streets.
At least one World War II veteran was on hand as well, 90-year-old William N. Smith. He spent nearly a year and a half in the Pacific Theater, refueling planes for the Army Air Corps.
He said he tries to come to the parade every year, even though it can be a lonely affair.
“I had a friend in Burlington who died three or four years ago, and another friend in Washington (N.C.),” Smith said. “He’s also dead. I’m the only one left alive from the guys I know.”
An 83-year-old Korean War veteran at the parade, Perry J. Eli, also said the reunions for the sailors on his aircraft carrier, the USS Saipan, are getting smaller.
“It’ll get to the point where there’s just two of us left, and we’ll buy each other a beer,” he said.
Both Eli and Smith said they have fond memories of their service. Eli was on the second carrier to ever sail all the way around the globe, having joined the Navy as an uncle had before him.
“I had a good run,” he said. “I got to go around the world. How many people can say that?”
Smith got to see parts of the world few North Carolinians of his era ever laid eyes on, and he even had some fun doing it.
“You know what you do to get the Good Conduct Medal?” the former private first class asked, pointing with a sly grin to one of the replica medals pinned to his hat. “Not get caught.”