ALPHARETTA, Ga. — Thousands of spectators lined Roswell Street Saturday morning for the
67th annual Old Soldiers Day
Parade in downtown Alpharetta.
The event came off without a hitch, despite a controversy that arose days before when a lawsuit was filed against the city for its decision to ban display of the Confederate battle flag in the parade.
The issue barely simmered as a procession of close to 75 entries, including some 40 floats, filed past.
Old Soldiers Day is sponsored each year by American Legion Post 201 and the City of Alpharetta.
As usual, young children occupied the prime positions just off the sidewalks, scrambling for the candy tossed from the floats, fire engines and other wheeled contraptions. Nearly all tossed sweets to the kids.
Sweeter still were the youngest children yelling “thank you” in return — their words barely audible over the sirens, car horns and roaring engines.
“We had a lot of new entries this year,” said Lisa Dernovish, one of three judges for the floats.
Ed Isakson YMCA took top honors this year for its float recalling the all-women’s American Legion baseball teams of the 1940s. The female squads took the field, filling in for the depleted ranks of men who were overseas serving in World War II.
Johns Creek Veterans Association took second prize, with their 5-ton retired Army truck, “Sarge.”
Dernovish said she always enjoys reviewing the floats in the competition. One of her favorites every year, she said, is the Alpharetta Rotary Club, whose patriotic tribute to veterans was good enough for third place in this year’s float competition.
Keynote speaker was Dale Barnett, 2015-2016 national commander of the American Legion, who recounted the proud history of the organization since its founding 100 years ago.
Barnett called on the audience to recall the vision of American Legion founders who saw the need for a peacetime organization of veterans who protect the national defense, promote Americanism, care for youth and care for veterans.
He recounted how veterans gathered in Minneapolis in 1919 during the organization’s charter launch.
“They were packed in crowded rail cars, oftentimes with several veterans sharing the same hotel room, but they were ready to change the world,” Barnett said. “They were a diverse group — rich, poor, officer, enlisted — but they were all united with the belief that they had fought the war to end all wars and to establish a legacy of the sacrifices made as veterans in defense of our nation.”
From that vision, Barnett said, has grown an organization committed to community service and fostering of America’s youth with programs in support of Boy Scouts, American Legion Baseball and Boys State.
“However, most of us would agree that our signature accomplishment was the passage of the Serviceman’s Readjustment Act of 1944 (the GI Bill),” he said. “A past national commander, Harry Colmery, on hotel stationery written at the Mayflower Hotel, wrote the GI Bill of Rights, the greatest piece of social legislation in our nation’s history.”
Barnett said he was honored to have spoken during the 2016 dedication of the Harry Colmery statue and park in downtown Topeka, Kansas.
“The American Legion legacy helped millions of returning veterans bridge the gap from military service to civilian life that changed American society and built a strong middle class, shaped by our veterans and the American Legion,” Barnett said.
Just down the street from the speakers’ rostrum stood Billy Beardon, dressed in gray wool, holding a Confederate battle flag. He had staked out a space on the west side of the street, an area that, despite the growing throngs of visitors, remained uncrowded.
Beardon said he was present to continue honoring the men of the 38th Georgia Infantry Regiment, Company B, the group Old Soldiers Day was originally formed to celebrate.
He said he was also present to protest the city’s ban on the Confederate battle flag from the parade.