By Joel Hall
In order to honor the closing of Fort Gillem three years from now, the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Post 3650 in Riverdale will host a Veterans Day Parade next Saturday.
More than 60 different organizations will participate in the parade, which will take place in the heart of downtown Riverdale.
Arthur Hughes, the parade's organizer and a member of VFW Post 3650, said this will be the chapter's third parade since 2006. He expects it to draw more crowds than the first, and in anticipation of that, a major section of State Highway 85 will be shut down for two hours on Saturday for the celebration.
"We are doing this parade in honor of the closing of the military base, Fort Gillem [in September 2011]," said Hughes. "The base is the third-largest employer in Clayton County, and it has served a lot of veterans in the county.
"Most of the time, when a base is closed, people are worried about how it will impact the economy of the area," Hughes said. "We just want to give them some kudos and say thank you, and go out on a high note, instead of a sad note."
The parade will feature performances from several bands, including the Fort McPherson Army Ground Forces Band, Mundy's Mill High School Marching Band, and the Morrow High School Marching Band.
Several military groups will be featured, including members of the Georgia Army National Guard and representatives of Tuskegee Airmen, Inc.
Deborah Grays, garrison commander of Fort McPherson and Fort Gillem, will ride in the parade on behalf of Fort Gillem, and Eldrin Bell, Clayton County Board of Commissioner chairman, will present an official proclamation during the parade. The two honorary grand marshals will be Allan Vigil, a Vietnam War veteran and founder of Allan Vigil Ford Lincoln Mercury, and Terry Cullen, owner of Terry Cullen Southlake Chevrolet and a long-time supporter of the VFW.
Iris Jessie, city manager of Riverdale, said the parade will start on Main Street near Riverdale City Hall, head southbound on Highway 85, turn left at Lamar Hutchinson Parkway, and stop at Riverdale Middle School on Roberts Drive. Holding the parade has required the consent of several merchants and the Georgia Department of Transportation.
"I think its critical that people stop and acknowledge the work that veterans do," said Jessie. "It's a visible reminder that veterans play a vital role in the country's protection. Hopefully, there will be some new people participating in the parade, and that will bring Riverdale some visibility."
The parade will take place from 10 a.m., to 11:30 a.m. For more information, call (678) 640-1223, or (404) 894-8754.