Parade organizers getting ready for a busy weekend

May. 20, 2014 @ 10:52 AM

Thomasville's annual Memorial Day parade is right around the corner.
Organizers of the 27th annual N.C. Memorial Day Parade & Celebration are putting the finishing touches on the largest such event in the state. The parade attracts thousands of people to the Chair City every year for a chance to show appreciation to the men and women who serve in the military.
“It looks like it's going to be real good,” said Staff Sgt. Joe Leonard, CEO of the N.C. Memorial Day Parade & Celebration. “We've about got everything organized. It's going to be a huge one.”
A year ago, organizers found out just weeks before the parade that a sequester from the federal government would prohibit the use of almost all of the military equipment that had made the event so popular. Members of the Memorial Day Committee are more prepared in 2014, despite the lack of support from the government.
“You can't expect a whole lot,” Leonard said. “Certainly it's not easy and a lot of the active military assets we've had in the past won't be here for us. It's kind of disappointing that we can't get more of the active military involved in this. I can't imagine the funds are that short, but I suppose they are.”
Relying mainly on civilian assets, Leonard said this year's parade still offers hundreds of unique military units, as well as dozens of veterans and their families. This year's installment features members of the Wounded Warriors program and Gov. Pat McCrory as the parade marshal.
“Memorial Day is the first official holiday of the summer season, and a lot of people are off to the mountains or the lake for a cookout,” Leonard said. “When the truth of the matter is, if you so wanted to, you could come to Thomasville and go face-to-face with a true American hero and thank them for their service. I don't begrudge the ones who don't because it's the people we're honoring who give them the right to do that.”
A display of military vehicles at the Wal-Mart parking lot from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday kicks off the holiday weekend. Sunday features a memorial service at Carolina Memorial Baptist Church at 5 p.m. followed by a 82nd Airborne concert at Finch Auditorium at 7 p.m. Monday's ceremony starts at 9 a.m. at the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial on Interstate 85 before shifting to downtown Thomasville. The parade begins at 11 a.m. on Main Street and proceeds down Salem Street to Cushwa Stadium, where family members of fallen soldiers will be honored for their sacrifice.
Medal of Honor recipient Rudy Hernandez, a guest of the parade for the past several years, died on Dec. 21, 2013.
Finch Field at 3:30 p.m. on Monday will host a Wounded Warriors benefit softball game for the first time. Mark Scott, Thomasville Tourism director, and Thomasville HiToms president Greg Suire created the event as a way to support wounded veterans and their caregivers. Several members of the Wounded Warriors program who are scheduled to appear at the parade also will be honored at Charlotte Motor Speedway prior to Sunday's Coca-Cola 600.
“It's really been a lot to put together but I think it's going to be worth it,” Scott said. “It's really just been one group after another working and giving of themselves freely to try and make this happen. It's been a ton of people working together. The softball game really is a way to put a face with the benefit.”
Monday's softball game will include veterans, HiToms players and other parade organizers, with all proceeds benefiting the Wounded Warriors program.
For a complete schedule of events, visit NC Memorial Day Parade & Celebration on Facebook.

Staff Writer Eliot Duke can be reached at 888-3578, or duke@tvilletimes.com.