Curtis Parker of Glenarden, Maryland, served in the Air Force from 1952 to 1961, including a three-year stint in the Korean War.
The 82-year-old veteran, who retired with the rank of technical sergeant, feels humbled when people thank him for his military service, especially on Veterans Day.
He and roughly six dozen other veterans, local officials and family members came together Friday for an annual Veteran Day commemorative program in Bladensburg, which honors men and women who have served in the armed forces.
“I feel very honored and proud to have been able to serve,” said Parker, a member of American Legion Post 275 of Glenarden. “I miss my buddies who also served. … I came in with a segregated force that was just on the brink of integrating, but at least I was there to see the transformation.”
The event, sponsored by the American Legion Post 131 of Colmar Manor and town of Bladensburg Patriotic Committee, was held near a 40-foot statue known as the Peace Cross, erected in 1925 as a World War I memorial at Annapolis Road and Alternate Route 1.
Officials and residents of the towns that border the monument — Bladensburg, Colmar Manor and Cottage City — also hold Memorial Day observances at the site.
Gary Gifford, treasurer with the American Legion Department of Maryland in Baltimore, told stories about various veterans who have made America a better country.
“Veterans come in all shapes and sizes — young and old, rich and poor, black and white,” he said. “They are men and women who served … America.”
County Executive Rushern L. Baker III, a usual attendant of the yearly event, was conspicuously absent Friday; however, he did issue a statement in honor of the holiday and appreciation for the nearly 70,000 veterans in the county.
“This day … is devoted to remembering and honoring the countless people and families who served and sacrificed to make our country a safer place should be held high in our culture,” he said. “It is a day where we should go out of our way to say ‘thank you’ to a veteran who might be a family member, a neighbor or a friend. Each veteran deserves our respect and support for all they have done in service to us.”
According to the 2014 census, there are roughly 21.4 million veterans nationwide, with about nearly 438,000 residing in Maryland.
Allen White, who served in the Army from 1966-68 and in the Vietnam War from 1967-68, choked up when he mentioned his fallen comrades.
“It’s wonderful to be able to come here each year and allow us to give remembrance and thanks to those who served,” said White, 74, of Oxon Hill. “We should also remember those who fought before us to carry on their legacy. It’s not a matter that I’m an African-American, but we are all Americans in this country. We can’t do anything to change the past, but we can do something about the future.”