This year’s Medal of Honor celebration wasn’t as big as it normally is, but organizers and recipients each are glad that Gainesville put out the red carpet again after missing last year to COVID-19.
The four recipients who made it to town received the customary warm welcome from citizens, including a crowd of a few thousand who lined California Street in downtown Gainesville for Saturday’s parade.
“Gainesville is nice enough to host us every year, so the least we could do was come here and try to support a little bit,” said Michael Fitzmaurice, the Medal of Honor recipient who came in from Sioux Falls, S.D., with his wife Patty.
Fitzmaurice was joined this year’s by fellow recipients Donald “Doc” Ballard, James Taylor and Patrick Brady – who served as Grand Marshal for the parade.
That quartet was joined in the procession by a host of veterans’ groups – AMVETS, the University of Texas at Austin Military Alumni group, Dallas/Ft. Worth Seabees and several more. There were also Model A Fords, custom Corvettes, local scouts, the Gainesville High School marching band and local fire and police agencies.
Gainesville Mayor Tommy Moore, who chaired this year’s events, said he was happy with how everything turned out. He and the other organizers had scaled back their expectations for turnout by medal recipients, due to the date change (late September rather than April) and the lingering effects of COVID-19 across the U.S.
“I think there's a lot of issues,” Moore told the Register. “Of course, the population of the recipients is aging. So there were a few with health-related issues and it's the reason they didn't travel.
“There were a couple I know didn't attend due to COVID, but none are sick with COVID. I think they were concerned about being confined in an aircraft flying in and we understand that.”
Planning now turns to the next Medal of Honor Host City celebration, which is scheduled for it’s usual spring slot in 2022 – April 22-25. Moore said organizers would meet next week to start that process.
One thing they will discuss was the sparse turnout at the Farmer’s Market after the parade.
“There's some details probably at each event that needed to be worked on, that most of the public would never notice, but we noticed,” he said. “It wasn't sponsored by the Medal of Honor Host City program, but by the city – our Medal of Honor Fest that we had scheduled down at the Farmer's Market. I don't know what happened there. We're going to have to figure that one out.”
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