Up to 20,000 people turned out Saturday for a parade to welcome home the National Guard’s 278th Regimental Combat Team, providing a big-city atmosphere powered by small-town values.
The rains that had been pelting the region ceased and the clouds gave way to bright sunshine for the two-hour Celebrate Freedom Parade 2006 through downtown Knoxville.
Tennessee’s Governor, Phil Bredesen, seems to have made entirely appropriate comments, notwithstanding the fact that he is a Democrat:
“What a great sight this is on the street today,” said Gov. Phil Bredesen as he reviewed the 2,500 members of the 278th standing in parade formation wearing their camouflage uniforms.
Bredesen said the men and women of the 278th who were deployed to Iraq for a year represent “what is the very best of our state and the very best of our nation.”
“I thank you for your courage and sacrifices,” the governor told the soldiers. “You left as trained citizens and you came back as warriors.”
“Warriors”–not usually a part of the Democrats’ lexicon.
I really like the way the Knoxville paper talked about the accomplishments of Tennessee’s citizen soldiers and the crowd’s excitement:
Adams said downtown Knoxville had not seen a military parade such as Saturday’s since Gen. Lawrence Davis Tyson marched his troops through the city after World War I. The last time the 278th was awarded a battle streamer was for World War II, Adams said.
Officials said the 4,000 soldiers of the 278th stationed along the dangerous northeast border of Iraq captured or killed 550 insurgents. The soldiers encountered 288 improvised explosive devices, with 64 percent located before the objects could deliver fatal blows to soldiers or civilians. The soldiers built or repaired schools, government buildings, wells and mosques during their deployment, which ended for most of the 278th in late October.
As 67 parade units filled Gay Street, children squealed with delight at huge helium-filled balloons and adults swelled with pride at the accomplishments of their children or grandchildren in Iraq.
Local officials arranged special honors for the families of the ten soldiers who were killed in combat. I thought this exchange with the father of one of the ten was especially noteworthy:
Gary Lee Reese Sr., of Ashland City, Tenn., lost his 22-year-old son Sgt. Gary L. Reese Jr. on Aug. 13, 2005, to a similar [IED] device. Serving in Iraq, Reese said, provided his son a perspective on life he never would have gained otherwise.
“I think the soldiers saw that these people should have the opportunity to have what we have,” Reese said. “He stood up for the right thing, and I’m very proud of that,” Reese said. He added he rarely saw a picture of his son in Iraq without children surrounding the soldier.
“Those little kids who got to know Lee knew he wasn’t there to teach them how to strap bombs on. He was there to help them have what he has.
“I know his life wasn’t wasted because he gave those children an opportunity see who the good guys are and who the bad guys are.”
Amid all of the adoring publicity that is lavished on extremists like Cindy Sheehan, or malcontents like the seven now-famous generals, couldn’t the dominant media find just a moment to take note of Mr. Reese’s inexpressibly noble perspective on his son’s life and death?