CULLMAN, Ala. – In spite of the challenges of COVID-19, Cullman’s 2020 Veterans Day Celebration at Cullman Regional Airport Saturday, Nov. 7 could be the largest ever, according to the Cullman VFW’s Col. Ken Brown. This year’s event will include original WWII aircraft that have not been to Cullman before, as well as opportunities to get face-to-face with a few of the last remaining representatives of that body of military veterans called “America’s Greatest Generation,” and a chance to honor the young troops who have served this generation in the Middle East.
The slate of aircraft includes, among others:
- B-25 Mitchell bomber, a plane used throughout the war, but maybe most famous for its use in the 1942 Doolittle raid on Tokyo. A representative of the Doolittle Raiders organization will be on hand to talk about the mission and aircraft.
- F-4U Corsair Navy/Marine fighter, the plane made famous by Col. Greg “Pappy” Boyington’s “Black Sheep Squadron.” A reenactor portraying Boyington will be on hand.
- C-47 Skytrain troop transport, often dubbed the “Gooney Bird” by troops. Several of the WWII-era planes and their commercial DC-3 counterparts are still flying, but the plane that will visit Cullman actually dropped troops on Normandy during the 1944 D-Day invasion.
- P-51 Mustang fighter, considered by many to have been the premier allied fighter aircraft of WWII, flown by many units including Alabama’s own “Redtail” Tuskegee Airmen. In conjunction with the display, the event will feature an exhibit of Ford Mustangs, which were originally named for the aircraft.
- CH-47 Chinook twin-rotor heavy cargo/troop helicopter. The Chinook has served in various capacities, from troop transport to assault gunship, from the Vietnam War to the present.
In addition to aircraft, Cullman’s Veterans Day Celebration will include:
- Free lunch for veterans and their spouses
- WWII displays and costumed reenactors
- War movies featuring military aviation
- Skydiving demonstrations
- Wallace State Jazz Band
According to Col. Brown, “It’s going to be the biggest one that we’ve ever tried to put on here in Cullman. We have just more attractions coming this year than we’ve ever tried to do before.”
Dignitaries from “America’s Greatest Generation”
Saturday’s guest of honor will be Bradford Freeman, the last surviving D-Day veteran of Easy Company, 2nd Battalion, of the 101st Airborne Division’s 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, which was made famous by the cable series “Band of Brothers.” The Mississippi native attended basic training at Ft. Rucker in Alabama before going to jump school at Ft. Benning. During the Normandy invasion, he was among the small group of soldiers who assembled with then Lt. Richard “Dick” Winters after a disorganized night landing. As a mortar operator, Freeman also took part in Operation Market Garden and the Battle of the Bulge.
Freeman returned to farming in Mississippi after the war and became a mailman. He was an advisor for the “Band of Brothers” series and has continued to attend 101st Airborne events and travel to Europe to revisit his battlefields.
The event’s grand marshal will be Lt. Col. Julian Campbell, who flew 40 B-26 bomb missions over Europe, then cargo missions over the Pacific during WWII, and went on to serve in the U.S. Air Force through the Korean War era and beyond, flying the last combat missions of his colorful career over Vietnam.
Campbell turned 100 this year. He still carries in his wallet a page from a Bible containing Psalm 91, which his mother sent to him in 1943 while he was serving in Europe.
Remembering past heroes, honoring and helping those of this generation
This year’s event will offer a lot of opportunities, not only to remember, but to encounter the “Greatest Generation,” but Col. Brown sees a whole new generation of heroes whose service also needs to be recognized and honored.
Said Brown, “When I served in Vietnam, we only went for one year, and what we saw during that one year, depending on what kind of combat we were in… But we’re asking these kids now to go for one, two, three, four combat tours to Afghanistan or Iraq, or a combination thereof. And they’ve been through an awful lot, and I think they all deserve to have a special day during the year. We give people a day off to celebrate the holiday. I think it’s just important to come out and thank them and to show by our very presence- even if you don’t shake any hands this year, fist bump or whatever- if you just come out and let the veterans know that you care about their day and about their service, I think that’s the important thing, because they really have been through a heck of a lot more than we’ve asked of previous generations.
“You know, we talk about the World War II guys being the Greatest Generation. They’ve gotten an awful lot of thanks and a lot of notoriety, and an awful lot of attention over the years. We’ve probably celebrated them more, for a longer period of time, than any other generation, and maybe rightfully so. But, you know, the kids that have been fighting for the last 25, 30 years in the Middle East certainly deserve some credit and some attention. And we need to start turning out for them, too.”
Help for hurting veterans
Brown is involved with Cullman VFW Post 2214 and Saving Forgotten Warriors in a program that helps veterans overcome post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) through the Stellate Ganglion Block shot offered by a physician and former Navy SEAL in Maryland. The shot, which is said to “reboot” the brain and allow the veteran to get outside the cycle of turmoil caused by PTSD, has been administered with great success to 44 Cullman area veterans so far, thanks to the two groups and numerous donors who allow the shot, which is not currently covered by V.A. benefits or most insurance policies, to be administered free of charge to the vets.
Brown hopes to see even more veterans helped by the program, telling The Tribune, “We have a lot of veterans here in Cullman County, 7,000 veterans, and even the veterans’ organizations don’t know who they all are, because of the privacy act. So if we have veterans out there that are having a problem with PTSD and it’s affecting their families, jobs and so on, they need to get in touch with us at the VFW or Saving Forgotten Warriors, and let us know about their situation, and we’ll try to get them in line to do this.
“It’s kind of a dual track deal: we need to have the veterans identify themselves to us so we can help them, and we have a line of veterans lined up to go to Annapolis to get the shot, and we’re going to continue to try to raise the funds to get them up there as best we can and as soon as we can.”
Interested veterans can touch base with either organization at the airport during the celebration, or they can reach Cullman VFW Post 2214 at 256-739-6611 or Saving Forgotten Warriors at 256-747-5006. Visit www.facebook.com/Savingforgottenwarriors/ or www.facebook.com/cullmanVFWPost.
Come on out!
Brown said, “It’s going to be a nice day. We don’t have any Alabama football, we don’t have any Auburn football that day- they’ve both got a bye . . . We celebrate Veterans Day, and most people don’t celebrate it; they don’t do anything. And here’s an opportunity to come out and have some fun: it’s a family day, it’s all free, it’s all paid for. The City, the County, the business community, they all paid for it to honor the veterans. And all people really have to do is come out and enjoy the day with their family. I don’t think that’s asking a whole lot. I hope we’ll have a record crowd out there this year.”
At a glance
What: Cullman County Veterans Day Celebration
Where: Cullman Regional Airport
When: Saturday, Nov. 7, 9 a.m.-3 p.m.
Free admission and free parking
COVID DISCLAIMER from www.cullmanveteransday.com:
TO ENSURE THE HEALTH OF OUR EVENT GUESTS, WE ARE TAKING PRECAUTIONS TO SAFEGUARD THE SAFETY OF OUR VISITORS AND SUPPORT STAFF DURING THE COVID PANDEMIC. WE PLAN TO CONDUCT THE NOV. 7 VETERANS CELEBRATION IN FULL COMPLIANCE WITH PUBLIC HEALTH DIRECTIVES, INCLUDING MASKS AND SOCIAL DISTANCING.
THERE IS A RISK OF CONTRACTING COVID AT ANY PUBLIC GATHERING.
BY ATTENDING THE VETERANS CELEBRATION, YOU AND YOUR GUESTS VOLUNTARILY ASSUME ANY RISK TO EXPOSURE AND AGREE TO HOLD NEITHER THE CITY OF CULLMAN, THE CULLMAN COUNTY COMMISSION, CULLMAN REGIONAL AIRPORT BOARD, ITS ELECTED AND APPOINTED OFFICIALS, EMPLOYEES OR AUTHORIZED AGENTS, OR THEIR INSURERS OR THE CULLMAN ELKS/VETERANS COMMITTEE LIABLE FOR ANY ILLNESS. PLEASE STAY SAFE AND HAVE A FUN TIME!
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