Celebrating veterans? Alpharetta leads the way

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Yes, it is that time of year again. The first Saturday in August will mark one of the oldest parades celebrating local veterans for their service still going strong.

Old Soldiers Day in Alpharetta got its start shortly after the Civil War ended. Veterans of that war would come to old Milton County and camp out under the stars and share their memories and renew comradeship.

At the end of the encampment the veterans would line up and march in a parade down Main Street to the cheers of friends and family. And so it went until the early 1920s when the few veterans left were too frail to make the trip anymore.

Then in 1950, the newly chartered American Legion Post 201 decided to renew the Old Soldiers Day Parade that today attracts more than 100 units complete with marching bands, floats and a big hotdog picnic at Post 201.

But I have the real lowdown about the renewal of Old Soldiers Day in Alpharetta. I got it straight from the horse’s mouth. I call my source “Deep Drawl.”

Well, OK, it is no big secret, but it was told to me by one of Post 201’s charter Legion members, Mel Coalson. He was literally the first person I met in 1993 as the newly minted editor of the Alpharetta-Roswell Revue – you know it today as the Herald.

I was sitting at my desk the second day on the job when I was informed I had a visitor. A courtly white-haired gentleman with a distinguished demeanor, engaging smile and a twinkle in his eye was ushered in. He inquired if I would raise his esteem in the community by having lunch with him that day.

I quickly found myself sitting with Mel at the old Alpha Soda restaurant (the one that used be on Main Street) and listening with interest about two of his favorite causes, the Lion’s Club and the Old Soldier’s Day Parade.

He told me how a bunch of World War II vets decided they would form an American Legion post as a way to serve the community and enjoy each other’s company. He also told me about their biggest event each year, Old Soldier’s Day Parade, always the first Saturday in August.

And that free lunch at Alpha Soda would end up costing me my first annual membership dues in Post 201. Later I was given the honor of being Parade Committee chairman.

I have to admit it was love at first sight. It is one those true slices of Americana. The floats are judged, the politicians wave from convertibles and there are plenty of marching bands. More than 100 units participate each year.

My good friend Roger Wise tells me there will be a new wrinkle for the 65th Old Soldiers this year. Local veterans who wish to participate will be included in the parade courtesy of Carl Black.

But I promised the low-down on the Legion’s first parade. That first Saturday in August, 1952, they had a picnic served up by the wives at the Courthouse downtown. The wives all cooked and the men swapped stories. Sometime after a certain amount of libation, the cry came up from friends and family for the veterans to march around the block. They hauled out the Alpharetta Fire engine No. 1 (there was no No. 2), and fell into some semblance of order and marched around the courthouse.

Everybody was cheering us and were yelling, ‘Go around again! Go around again!’ And we did,” Mel told me.

The next year they marched again, and I guess by the third year the whole town would turn out.

Now the first Saturday in August is circled on many North Fulton calendars. It is one of those wonderful old traditions that grew out of spontaneity and patriotism. The parade has kept its special charm as Alpharetta’s own celebration of those who served.

Get down to Alpharetta on Milton Avenue and Roswell Street if you haven’t been to an Old Soldiers Day parade before. Bring your chairs and sit and watch the fun. And then come by the Post 201 at 201 Wills Road for a free hotdog and the chance to rub shoulders with a vet. It’s a hoot and a holler.


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