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Vets Day Ceremony at Refurbished Veterans Memorial Park

Dave Dunwoody, WUWF Public Media

Pensacola’s annual Veterans Day parade wound through downtown Monday morning, ending with a ceremony at Veterans Memorial Park. This year’s theme was “Women in Service.”

Hundreds of veterans, their families and friends gathered on a warm, sunny day in front of the Wall South -- the half-sized replica of the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D-C. The Master of Ceremonies was retired Marine aviator Jack Brown, the outgoing President of the Wall South Foundation.  A successor is expected to be named next week.

“From a selfish perspective, I was really looking forward to this day,” said Brown. “Not just to honor veterans, but to have you all, the citizens of this area, see what is here and what’s become of it, and know that there’s more to come in the future.”

Brown was referring to the major renovations and additions to the 22-year-old facility. The memorials include those to the two World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, the American Revolution and Marine Aviation. But the new crown jewel is a new informational kiosk and computer system with which to find names on the Wall South.

Veterans Day originally was called Armistice Day, to commemorate the end of World War I – the “War to End All Wars.” Congress changed the name in 1954. It’s still known as Armistice Day in Europe, and Remembrance Day in the U-K and Canada. Monday’s ceremony began at 11 o’clock – the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month – the same moment the Armistice took effect in 1918.

Guest speaker for the ceremony was retired Navy Capt. Lee Hanson, who also served as Grand Marshal for this year’s Veterans’ Parade. She spoke about one of the ‘Yeomanettes,” as women who joined the Navy were known during World War I: Frieda Mae Hardin, who died in 2000 at the age of 103.

“In 1917, she became one of the first women to enlist for service in the Navy,” said Hanson. “Who was one of the first non-nursing persons who joined the service. The thing that really rang amazing to me is that when she signed up, she didn’t have the right to vote.”

Hanson -- who became the first naval flight officer and the first woman to command Training Squadron Four aboard NAS Pensacola – said she had the opportunity to hear from Frieda Mae Hardin in person while visiting Washington, D.C. in 1997, when Hardin was 101.

“She, in a very loud, clear voice, thanked us for our service,” Hanson said.

Hanson told the audience that as much as the men and women who have worn the uniform have affected the nation – their service has also affected them.

“We have a pride in our service, a pride in our uniform, and it runs deep. Look around today. You’ll see people wearing parts of their uniform that still fit,” said Hanson, who was wearing her full Navy dress uniform, complete with decorations.

Other Veterans Day parades and observances were held in Milton and Mary Esther, along with a Wall Ceremony in Crestview.