The Cumberland County Veterans Council is sponsoring the Fayetteville Veterans Day Parade scheduled for Saturday beginning at 10 a.m. in downtown Fayetteville. The theme of this year’s parade is “Honoring our World War II Veterans – The Greatest Generation.”
Organizers said there will be more than 100 participants in the parade, including active duty military with military equipment, veterans’ organizations, ROTC units and marching bands from area high schools and universities. The parade is set to begin on Hay Street at the Airborne Special Operations Museum and end at Liberty Point on Person Street.
“The Veterans Council is once again proud to sponsor this event with the City of Fayetteville,” said Mike Gillis, President of the Cumberland County Veterans Council and a retired Chief Warrant Officer. “The Veterans Council wanted to honor the veterans of World War II during this anniversary year. This generation called ‘the Greatest Generation’ grew up in the great depression, went off to serve their country, and came home to help rebuild a nation into the world’s economic powerhouse.”
Command Sgt. Maj. Kenneth “Rock” Merritt will be the Grand Marshal of the parade. Merritt is a World War II veteran who took part in the combat parachute jump into France on D-Day with the 82nd Airborne Division. He served for 35 years, with 31 years spent on jump status.
While Merritt served in many capacities during his military career, he spent much of his time at Fort Bragg in the 82nd Airborne Division and the XVIII Airborne Corps, even twice serving as the Corps Command Sgt. Maj. He began his military service with the 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment when it was at Camp Mackall. During his career, Merritt served several overseas tours including Korea, Vietnam and the Dominican Republic.
“I’ve marched in many parades, but never been the Grand Marshal of one,” Merritt said. Now 93 years old, Merritt retired from Fort Bragg in 1977 and decided to make Fayetteville his home.
Merritt has received other honors for his military service, including the Silver Star. After his retirement, Merritt made a point to stay connected to the men and women who continue to serve in uniform, often attending reunions and functions to share his experience and advice.
“I’ve been retired almost 40 years,” Merritt said. “And I’ve been talking to soldiers at Fort Bragg ever since.”
Merritt, who makes it out to Fort Bragg about twice a week, is not hesitant about picking favorites.
“My favorite soldier’s a squad leader – they have the toughest job in the Army,” Merritt said. “General Omar Bradley told me to take care of them, even after I retire.”
It is a charge the sergeant major has taken to heart. His service and commitment to young soldiers, especially those serving in the infantry, has not gone unnoticed. Just last month, Merritt was presented with the Doughboy Award at Fort Benning, Georgia, the home of the U. S. Army infantry.
The Doughboy is presented each year to an individual in recognition of outstanding contributions to the infantry. It is presented on behalf of all infantryman past and present. “Doughboy” is the term coined while soldiers were preparing for World War I along the Rio Grande in Texas. The troops would become covered in the dusty, white adobe soil. Mounted troops called these infantrymen “adobes.” The term became “doughboys” over time. The Doughboy Award is the highest honor the Chief of Infantry can bestow on any Infantryman.
Merritt said he is honored to be asked to serve as Grand Marshal for the Veterans Day Parade in Fayetteville, an event he has enjoyed for years. “I think it brings the community together,” he said. “A lot of people look forward to it.”
Parade organizers said Merritt’s connection to the community and his service make him an ideal choice for Grand Marshal duties.
“We are honored to have Command Sgt. Maj. ‘Rock’ Merritt serve as our Grand Marshal this year,” said Kirk deViere, Chairman of the Fayetteville Veterans Day Parade. “Command Sgt. Maj. Merritt is the epitome of the ‘Greatest Generation’ - a man that is humble, who never brags about what he had done or been through. He is just a loyal patriot that gave so much for our country.”
For those unable to attend the parade downtown, WRAL-TV will cover the parade live again this year.
“This is one of the state’s finest parades and is dedicated to the generations of military men and women who have served us all so valiantly,” said WRAL-TV Vice President and General Manager Steven Hammel. “We are extremely honored to be a part of it.”