Neon orange cones temporarily split the road into two lanes of traffic early Friday morning as Brentwood Police directed cars past tan-colored hummers and uniformed men with smiles on their faces.
The city of Brentwood came out in droves to pay tribute to veterans and the 1st Battalion, 327 Infantry of the 101st Airborne Division as they paraded down Maryland Way. Brentwood, Franklin and Ashland City in Middle Tennessee adopted different units of the 327th, although Brentwood sent supplies and support to the entire battalion.
“The whole community came out,” said Dewayne Kendricks, commander of the 101st Airborne Division Band, which played during the parade. Franklin High School and Ravenwood High School marching bands also performed.
“There were a lot of high fives, applause, ‘thankyou’s’, and ‘I appreciate what you do’s,’” Kendricks said. “That’s a nice way to come home.”
The parade began by honoring fallen soldiers with a symbolic gesture of a black horse with the boots of the rider turned backwards followed by a banner with the names of 11 fallen soldiers.
Residents, employees from local businesses and students cheered along soldiers from the battalion’s six companies — Headquarters, Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, Delta and Echo —followed by their families.
“This is really awesome support for the soldiers,” Kendricks said. “To see the community rally around us and thank us for what we do — that’s all, I’ll tell you, they want to hear.”
However, the parade was just one portion of the event to welcome home rest of the battalion from the 12 months spent serving in Iraq. The day began with breakfast at Brentwood’s City Hall.
The soldiers came back with their manners intact, according to volunteer Jackie Mepyans, who served coffee and donuts to the troops.
“They all said thank you when we gave them something and picked up their trash,” said Mepyans, who wishes the city could do more for them.
“But they seem to be enjoying themselves,” Mepyans said. “The guys were relaxing on the cool grass in the sunlight.” After the parade, Brentwood Middle School students greeted soldiers and their families as they entered Granny White Park for a private party where a stage set up to provide musical performances by Michael W. Smith, Lonestar, the Kadillacs, Buddy Jewell and Amy-Jayne McCabe.
“This is amazing. Look at all this stuff,” Kendricks said, referring to several tents set up for food, a 20-foot inflatable slide for children, a stunt jousting match, and picnic tables with an assortment of desserts.
“I didn’t really know what to expect,” said Specialist Roderick Burnside. Although, he didn’t know the schedule of the day’s events, he was content to enjoy the unseasonably warm sunny day.
The day of events actually took an entire year to put together, according to Lynn Gillespie-Chater who helped coordinate the welcome with Roland Keistler and Vickie Flood.
“We’ve been planning this welcome home for them since the troops left last September,” Gillespie-Chater said. “It’s been a year of my life” but was happy to help, she added.
The entire event was put together by private donations and did not use any tax dollars, according to Gillespie-Chater. “I think we actually surpassed what I think we could get done,” said Brentwood Police Chief Ricky Watson, who sponsored the welcome.
“We far exceeded what our goal was so we were able to financially do more than we had ever hoped to do. “I couldn’t have hoped for anything better,” he said.