Union County upheld its reputation of having one of the largest Veterans Day celebrations in the state Friday as Main Street was filled with veterans, their families and numerous school children — all to show support and appreciation of those who sacrifice for their country.
The annual parade kicked off at 10:30 and featured local veterans as well as elected officials, school bands and the winners of Veterans Day essay and poster contests. The parade was followed by a ceremony led by Veterans Day Committee Chair Jantzen Childers.
Local Gold Star Mothers — mothers who lost their children during combat — were the first to be recognized following Friday’s parade. Azalee Ashe and Betty Baxley were the two who were recognized.
Childers then presented the 2011 Veterans Day Parade Marshal Steve Sinclair with a plaque of appreciation.
Sinclair is a Vietnam veteran who is also a member of the Union NCO Club, South Carolina National Guard Association, Enlisted Association of the U.S. Army American Legion, Vietnam Veterans of America and Veterans of Foreign Wars. He currently works as a family assistance specialist with the South Carolina Army National Guard. Childers pointed out that Sinclair has always played a huge part in the annual Veterans Day festivities in Union.
The next presentation was to I.G. Vanderford, who was named the 2011 Union County Veteran of the Year. Vanderford — a veteran who served in both Korea and Vietnam — served 26 years of active duty in the U.S. Army receiving among his distinguished military honors the Bronze Star, the United Nations Service Medal, the Korean Service Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, the Vietnamese Cross for Gallantry, the Army Commendation Medal, the Vietnam Campaign Medal and the Meritorious Unit Citation Award. He retired with the rank of Command Sergeant Major. He was awarded the Army Commendation Medal four times and the Good Conduct Medal seven times.
Childers said Vanderford was chosen for the honor primarily because of his continuous help to local veterans. Vanderford served six years as the Union County Veterans Affairs Officer. Current officer Cindy Fore said Vanderford continues to help local veterans as he voluntarily assists her at least three times a week.
Lt. Al Black of the Union County Sheriff’s Office was the featured speaker of the Veterans Day event. Black is a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel who was working as a civilian contractor employed at the Pentagon when it was attacked on 9/11.
Black began by acknowledging the sacrifices of all veterans who were in attendance and pointing them out to school children who were in attendance. Black then turned attention to the “silent heroes” among the crowd.
“Courage, integrity and character are not with us at birth,” he said. “They are instilled by parents, mentors and teachers throughout our lives. Those silent heroes don’t get parades, special awards or public acknowledgement. Their reward lies in seeing someone succeed to their full potential. Their quiet presence and selfless service make good men and women great.”
“They plant the seeds of character, integrity and courage, and water them daily with prayer, encouragement and discipline,” Black added.
Black then spoke directly to the children who were in attendance.
“The future is in your hands, and each one of you have a future before you,” he said. “Don’t be cheated out of your future by taking the easy road. Bad choices can steal your future from you. Nothing happens by accident. You will not just happen to make honor roll. You will not just happen to become a great musician or singer. You will not just happen to become a great athlete, and you will not just happen to be elected to public office.”
“I challenge you to challenge yourself to do your best at school and at home,” he added. “God has a plan for your life, but you must make good choices to make those dreams come true. It’s up to you to make that first step in life.”
Black also challenged parents to challenge their children as well as pray for them. He also challenged teachers to hold their students accountable.
He also spoke directly to the veterans in attendance.
“Veterans, today is about you,” he said. “Hold yourselves accountable and set an example for children who need your guidance and direction.”
Black asked all veterans to remember “Semper fidelis,” Latin for “always faithful.” He asked the veterans to remain faithful to the young lives before them.
Several Union County residents who have been awarded Purple Hearts were also recognized, including Leo Henderson, William Kell, Sammy Smith, Johnny Greer, Paul Davis and Jantzen Childers. Childers encouraged those who have Purple Hearts to contact him or Cindy Fore to be added to the list for next year’s festivities.
Following Black’s speech, Vietnam veterans Arthur Jordan and Ken Fowler — both of whom served in the U.S. Army — placed a wreath at the Main Street War Memorial, and a 21-gun salute was given by the Union National Guard.
Local students who won Veterans Day essay and poster contests were also recognized. Winners were as follows:
Union County School Essay Winners Grades 6-8
Jonesville Elementary/Middle School
Sixth Grade - Cory Foster
Seventh Grade - Skylar Garner
Eighth Grade — Stetson Gardin
Sixth Grade — Olivia Brannon
Seventh Grade — Mariah Boler
Eighth Grade — Caitlin Grant
Sims Middle School
Sixth grade — Victoria Moore
Seventh grade — Brooke Smith
Eighth grade — Samantha Hindman
Union Christian Day School Poster Contest Winners
First grade — Connor Earls
Second grade — Julie Latham
Third grade — Dixie Crocker
Fourth grade — Morgan Pettit
Fifth grade — Tashure Lott
Union County Schools Poster Contest Winners
5K — Keyshaun Brannon
First Grade — Ja’Kobe Harris
Second Grade — Kayden Wages
Third Grade — Dulce Dominuquez-Lopez
Fourth Grade — Karlie McCutcheon
Fifth Grade — Peighton Berry
Foster Park Elementary
5K — Tra’Shauna Kelly
First Grade — Prescott Lindsay
Second Grade — Shane Dudley
Third Grade — Hunter Senn
Fourth Grade — Chris Glass
Fifth Grade — Jamar Jeter
Jonesville Elementary/Middle School
5K — Cayson Whitlock
First Grade — Karly Brown
Second Grade — Dakota Prince
Third Grade — Jada Bagwell
Fourth Grade — Phillip Guinn
Fifth Grade — Makayla Dyer
5K — Raina Smith
First Grade — Delani Rash
Second Grade — Alexis Lanier
Third Grade — Sarah Rowland
Fourth Grade — Gracie Crocker
Fifth Grade — Chandler Northern
5K — Zayne Gibson
First Grade — Shonta N. Wicks
Second Grade — Zamaria Booker
Third Grade — Paige Blackwell
Fourth Grade — Adailya Wilkin
Fifth Grade — Terrance Gibson