Residents — many in jackets after a cold front brought rain and cooler temperatures — gathered along U.S. Interstate Highway 35 Wednesday evening to welcome visiting Medal of Honor recipients to MOH Host City events in Gainesville.
This year’s motorcade was expected to arrive between 4:30 and 5 p.m. but didn’t pass through the city until around 6 p.m. after some of the recipient’s flights were delayed due to bad weather.
The delay didn’t seem to upset the crowd who waited on the Farm-to-Market 1603 overpass to catch a glimpse of the group.
Amy Smith and her husband Matt Smith were among those who viewed the procession from the overpass. Smith said she and her husband thought it was important to bring their children to greet the recipients.
“Suffering in the cold on this bridge is nothing compared to what the recipients have sacrificed,” she said, adding her family has a long military history.
“The boys’ grandpa was a World War II veteran,” she said. “Their uncle was a Vietnam veteran and they have uncles who have served in Iraq.”
The recipients’ motorcade included members of patriotic motorcycle organizations and law-enforcement officers from the Texas Department of Public Safety and various towns, cities and agencies along the route from Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport to Gainesville.
Members of the Gainesville Fire Department hoisted an enormous flag to welcome the distinguished vistors.
Afterward, MOH Host City officials and volunteers, members of the motorcade and others held a dinner to honor the recipients at Gainesville Outlet Shops.
Today’s Medal of Honor Host City events include a tree planting ceremony at 9 a.m. at the Homegrown Heroes Walking Trail, speaking events during the day and a fish fry from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Gainesville High School.
The Medal of Honor Host City Program was established in the spring of 2001.
The project to bring recipients of the Medal of Honor to Gainesville was approved by then-Mayor Kenneth Kaden and the Gainesville City Council. It is the only program of its kind in the nation.
Held each April, the MOH Host City program — a nonprofit organization — provides round trip airfare for Medal of Honor recipients and a cash stipend for each recipient during four days of MOH activities. The visit includes a banquet, a parade, appearances by the recipients and visits to local schools.
Since 2001, more than 20 Medal of Honor recipients have spoken to at least 11,000 students about their experiences. Organizers note that the number the Medal of Honor recipients is dwindling. At the inception of Gainesville’s Medal of Honor Host City Program, there were 144 living Medal of Honor recipients.
Today there are approximately 80.