By GREG RUSSELL, Register Staff Writer
Gainesville’s week of patriotic fanfare ended Saturday with what organizers speculated was among the Medal of Honor Host City Program’s most elaborate parades.
“It’s been an absolutely amazing week,” said Host City board of directors president Karen Cook.
An hour’s procession down California Street included representation by all armed service branches, law enforcement vehicles from Cooke, Denton and Collin counties and appearances by Gainesville High School Band, North Texas Corvette Club, Veterans of Foreign Wars organizations, the Rough Riders biker club and groups uniformed in tribute to the Confederacy and the Continental Army.
The fifteen Medal of Honor recipients who attended Friday’s banquet at Gainesville Civic Center were also present, moved in military Jeeps past a crowd of hundreds.
“It’s fantastic,” said Al Smith, Cooke County Precinct 3 commissioner. “How can you not have a lump in your throat when you see these veterans go by, particularly from wars that you were alive for? It’s a special day.”
Emcee Tom Carson said the parade is now in its eighth year — though Host City activities began in 2001 — and that its vibrancy owes the most to Gainesville’s long-held patriotic fervor.
“It’s not just because of what we have done during the past 10 years,” he said Saturday. “It’s because of what we’ve always done.”
Cook said the 2013 Host City events had the benefit of newcomer recipients Gary Wetzel and Clinton Romesha, plus the banquet’s surprise special visit by recipient Clarence Sasser.
But as director, she admitted, her biggest challenge lay simply in getting the recipients to town.
“We started out with 17 but then some are overscheduled or some have health issues,” she said. “And so it dropped from 17 to 14, but then we had a wonderful surprise when Sasser showed up. And he was a last-minute entry into the parade, and so that was amazing.”
Cook also said the dozens of organizations who participate in the annual parade and bring their specialized vehicles easy elements to organize, since Gainesville’s Host City week has grown in stature and has drawn masses of people who want to be involved.
“They get in touch with us and so we don’t have to go after them anymore,” she said. “It’s wonderful, wonderful. And this has been one of the biggest parades that we’ve had, because there’s the excitement and interest in the new recipients.”
The role of Host City board president changes from year to year, and Cook said she would feel honored to fill it again if given the chance. But she added that some of the Host City volunteers in the 2013 organization are not native to Gainesville and told her how special and unique the program seemed to them.
“They are absolutely amazed,” she said. “They just cannot believe this town, how the people come out for everything and show support and patriotism. They just have not seen it anywhere like we have it in Gainesville.”