Traditions need to be challenged from time to time in order to test their value to those who participate and benefit from them. That is the case with Carteret County’s annual Veterans Day Parade held in downtown Morehead City on the first Saturday in November. Is this a tradition that the county wants to continue?

For 26 years, with only four interruptions, this annual event has produced the largest parade in the state, and one of the largest in the southeast, honoring our veterans both locally and nationally. That is an impressive feat considering the county’s year-round population of 66,000 pales in comparison to other cities with populations many times greater. Two major military cities, Jacksonville and Fayetteville, have more active uniformed military personnel alone, not counting the civilian population, and yet Carteret County’s parade has been larger.

A great deal of credit for the parade’s success goes to the county’s former Veteran Service Director Col. Hank Gotard, USMC, and a committed corps of volunteers, mostly veterans.

Prior to Col. Gotard taking the Service Director’s position in 1994, the assistant head of the Department of Veterans Affairs had commented that “Carteret County was the least-served county in the state for veterans.” The new director and his wife Edie set out to change that, creating one of the most responsive and effective veterans’ offices in the state.

That success was clearly on display every November with the county’s Veterans Day parade.

According to Bob Kirk, a member of the Veterans Coalition of the Crystal Coast and American Legion Post 46, prior to Col. Gotard’s appointment the county’s annual parade was usually a 15-minute event. By the time he retired in 2019, the parade had grown to include over 150 parade units involving more than 2,000 participants, not including thousands of well-wishers lining the parade route.

But this traditional event has faced challenges over the past five years which has diminished support to the point that it was cancelled this past week, for the fourth time, due to a lack of community support.

In 2018 the devastation left by Hurricane Florence two months prior forced the cancellation of the parade for the first time. The 2019 parade was successfully celebrated, but then in 2020 the COVID-19 pandemic forced a muted effort with a virtual parade. Then last year the threat of another storm resulted in a last minute cancellation.

As with any traditional event that relies exclusively on volunteers, any interruption reduces the connections that become almost second nature for the participants. Those interruptions also impact the opportunity to find new volunteers to replace those who have been faithfully working for years. All of this, along with the lost continuity of a traditional event, results in diminished participation among volunteers and the public.

The parade committee has documented what has been the historic investment of time and effort needed in the past. To support the 180 units and approximately 2,800 parade participants as appeared in the 2017 event, the committee begins planning for the Veterans Day recognition in January.

In the past, 35 or more people have attended the organizational meetings and have dedicated upwards to 500 man hours in planning and meeting with participants. This year’s planning committee amounted to six volunteers after several months of calls for public participation, a response that could not sustain the parade’s future.

There have been numerous letters to the editor and postings on social networks decrying the absence of the parade and even going so far as to criticize the organizers. These expressions of dismay or complaints avoid the real issue. Does the county want to continue the tradition of having the largest and most recognized Veterans Day Parade in the state?

We would hope so, but if it is to continue more public commitment is needed. It’s always easiest to stand along the parade route and make comments, positive or negative, but it is a totally different thing to step in and participate.

Now that the subject is on the table there is an excellent opportunity for other organizations to get involved and possibly take a leadership position. Why should veterans be responsible to invest time and effort for their own recognition party honoring their service to the country? We have for years just accepted that as their duty, which has the whole celebration concept upside down.

The value and importance of Carteret County’s annual Veterans Day Parade has been challenged as has the county’s investment in this very worthwhile event. Now that it is part of the public discourse it is time to make decisions. Do we care? And if so, who is willing to step up to participate?

The veterans and their families should be beneficiaries of the public’s volunteer efforts- not ‘their’ volunteer efforts. It is time to turn this recognition right-side up and put the effort forward to say thank you to our veterans and their families for their service to our country.

(3) comments


" who is willing to step up"

Everyone should read the essay " a letter to garcia" by Elbert Hubbard. Written in 1899, some of the language is a bit dated, It will give perspective to those who think shirkers, layabouts, and near-do- wells are some modern creation.


Yeah, but Rowan succumbed to the need for fame and glory, and shot his mouth off to a reporter, Elmer Roberts, before he - Rowan - arrived in Cuba.

So about the time that Rowan did arrive in Cuba, the 'secret' mission was splattered all over the front pages of various American newspapers.

Rowan's lucky he wasn't court-martialed for his stupidity, but the American public, also wallowing in stupidity, turned Rowan into a fake hero - kind of like modern America did with the likes of Eddie Gallagher and others of Gallagher's ilk. Instead of being court-martialed, Rowan was actually promoted, if only temporarily, to light colonel.

Had Rowan lived in modern terms, and had he been perhaps a SEAL or a member of Delta Force, just think of the book and movie deals he could have secured!

As well as opening a 'veteran-owned' brewery and coffee-roasting business.


That's fascinating I had no idea thanks.

Hubbard's telling of the story was masterful I thought. I work a labor job, and I can tell you 3/4 of my coworkers couldn't carry a letter to the mailbox, never mind to Garcia.

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