Columbia kicked off its eighth annual 4th of July celebration at Riverwalk Park Monday by honoring three local veterans, including one whose service was part of what's considered "the greatest generation."
A crowd gathered in the early morning hours to pay tribute to veterans and their fight to maintain the nation's freedom, starting with a prayer, followed by the Pledge of Allegiance and the national anthem sung by singer Jill Caldwell.
Members of the local Blue Knights chapter also performed a ceremony displaying The Cross of The Fallen Soldier prior to Columbia Breakfast and Noon Rotarys' tribute, which honored World War II veteran George Horne, as well as fellow veterans Steve Konz and Eddie Ables with the Great American Service Above Self Award.
Horne, a 96-year-old Nashville native, enlisted in the U.S. Army in Columbia along with 22 other servicemen in 1944. Horne was 18. Following basic training, he and his fellow soldiers were shipped out to Europe.
"His ship was supposed to hold 250 people, and they put 475 on his ship," Ables said. "Their mission was to gather enemy information on troops and equipment."
He was later transferred to the 109th infantry regiment, which was brought together for the invasion of the Japanese homeland prior to the 1946 bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki ending the war.
Horne was ultimately honorably discharged Aug. 6, 1946 at Fort Bragg in North Carolina.
Of the 22 that left Columbia, all 22 made it back alive. Today, 10 still remain living, and each reunite for dinner every year in November. He has also been a member of the American Legion Post 19 for 76 years, serving on multiple committees, coaching local sports and more.
"It's a privilege I have to be honored here this morning by such a great group of people," Horne said. "The Legion has been such a wonderful organization that's helped so many people in Columbia. I'm so thankful for all the people who came out today, and I've had a very enjoyable life. May God bless you, and may God Bless America."
Monday's ceremony also honored Konz, who not only served between 1965-1969 during the Vietnam War, but has also been a devout servant of Knights of Columbus, the King's Daughters' School, as well as donating more than 40 gallons of blood to local hospitals over the years.
As a former Maury County Trustee, Konz has also been awarded "Trustee of the Year" and was a past president of The Middle Tennessee Trustee's Association, among many other achievements.
Ables, local auctioneer and also one of Monday's honorees, began his military service in 1972 by enlisting in the U.S. Army reserves and the U.S Air National Guard in Huntsville, Alabama and Smyrna, Tennessee. He currently serves as post commander for the Columbia American Legion Post 19, where he has been a member for more than 20 years.
"Throughout my career, I've always been surrounded by the right kind of people, and that continues today," Ables said. "This is indeed an honor, and I appreciate it."
Mayor Chaz Molder shared his appreciation for the ceremony, and that Columbia is a city that supports its local veterans, especially considering it can still pay tribute to those who fought in wars which took place so many years ago. Their service and willingness to step up for the cause, he said, is something that should never be taken for granted.
"This is just such a great event to honor people like George Horne, one of the last remaining World War II vets in Maury County. That's just so great, and for the Rotary to put this event on," Molder said. "The other thing about this event is that the entire makeup of the crowd is the opportunity for the younger generation to interact and learn from the World War II generation. For it to bring the community together like that is a great way to celebrate the 4th of July. We are very fortunate as a community to be able to understand the importance and appreciate it."
This article originally appeared on The Daily Herald: Columbia Riverwalk Park 4th of July parade honors local servicemen