In the course time, I often receive emails, some for my instruction, some for my edification and some merely unsigned. I received this letter questioning the seemliness of the sobriquet the annual veterans’ parade in Alpharetta.
I decided to share the letter and my response, because it touched a chord in me, and raises a valid point:
Dear Mr. Hurd:
I would like to share an observation about the city of Alpharetta's annual "Old Soldiers' Parade." Is it not enough that these people suffered the terror of war, with some disabled for life? Do we now have to call them "old," too?
I could be wrong, but I think few people enjoy being referred to as "old," not to mention that it seems to be the defining trait of these heroes in the name of this event. I suggest to those in charge that "War Veterans' Parade" would be much more respectful and dignified in commemoration of the honorable service to our country of these special individuals.
First let me thank you for expressing your opinion. It is always good to get feedback from our readers. I understand your concern about showing proper respect to those who have served our country and put themselves in harm’s way.
As to Old Soldiers Day, it has always been called that since the custom first began after the Civil War when Southern veterans would camp here to have a reunion.
With the exception of the Spanish American War, they were the only soldiers the parade honored, and as time went on they got older, and then much older.
When we joined in World War I, the surviving veterans had about died out. And they tell me the last Old Soldiers Day parade was around 1920.
World War II veterans in Alpharetta decided to form what was to become the American Legion Post 201. They had a picnic in 1952 and invited the whole town to come out to celebrate on the first Saturday in August, the traditional day Old Soldiers Day was celebrated in the city.
As the celebration wore on, as one of the original members of Post 201 Melvin Coalson told me, the citizens began to call for the veterans to form up and parade around.
He told me they marched around the courthouse (which where the picnic was held), and completed one circuit. The crowd cheered and called for them to march around again. And they complied.
With that, the Post 201 Legion decided it would re-institute Old Soldiers Day and the parade on the first Saturday in August (during the traditional laying-by time when the crops were in but not ready for harvest).
For 62 years it has flourished as the Old Soldiers Day parade. Our wars are not so widely spaced these days, and the new veterans certainly outnumber the old ones.
I had the honor to be chairman of Old Soldiers Day Parade for five years running, and the one thing I took away from that experience is that tradition means a lot at Post 201. You might as well ask a Texan to change the name of the Alamo.
That is the name. And as a veteran growing older I take the position that they are talking about the really old soldiers and not me. But it is a comfort to me that when I do consider myself old, I will not consider myself something else, which is forgotten.
Finally, I must say that there is nothing wrong with being old. Given the alternative to the inevitable, I want to be as old as I can get.
Dwight D. Eisenhower, who suffered two heart attacks while president, was asked who would want to live to be 100? He replied, “I can tell you one guy who would, and that’s the guy who is 99.”
I know this culture worships youth and what is hip and new. But I think it is good that we honor the service of those who have given their service to the country and still carry those scars of that service. In most cultures, people sought out their elders for their wisdom and insight. Today, twentysomethings are our cultural gurus.
So I am one of those who like calling it Old Soldiers Day. It is a real tradition, not a marketing idea someone dreamed up. I also disagree the description “old” is a pejorative or to be allowed to use it as such. They used to put on the tombstones the phrase, “In the Fullness of His Years,” meaning he was blessed with a long life. And isn’t that good? I am no philosopher, but I do believe to have a long life you are going to have to get old to do it.
Yes, there are issues, especially quality of life as we age, but then that is really true throughout life. We have to take it warts and all.
So here’s to getting older.