Howard County's Veterans Day parade hits the road to join Columbia observance

Robert Gillette, a Navy veteran who is president of the Howard County Veterans Foundation, said organizers of the parade "didn’t want to be seen as abandoning Ellicott City in its time of need, but we didn’t want to appear to be showcasing the damage to Ellicott City, either."
Robert Gillette, a Navy veteran who is president of the Howard County Veterans Foundation, said organizers of the parade "didn’t want to be seen as abandoning Ellicott City in its time of need, but we didn’t want to appear to be showcasing the damage to Ellicott City, either." (Amy Davis / Baltimore Sun)

Columbia will host a Veterans Day tribute next Sunday for the third consecutive year, but this time the commemoration will have a new twist.

The annual Veterans Day Parade that traditionally occurs along Ellicott City’s historic Main Street will be folded into the roster of festivities normally offered in downtown Columbia, and will step off at 9:30 a.m. Sunday, Nov. 11.


Shifting the parade from Ellicott City to Columbia this year will give Main Street businesses some breathing room to continue their efforts to recover from May’s devastating flash flood, said Robert Gillette, president of the Howard County Veterans Foundation, one of the event’s organizers.

But the decision wasn’t an easy one.


“We didn’t want to be seen as abandoning Ellicott City in its time of need,” said Gillette, a Woodbine resident who served eight years in the Navy.

Howard County residents gathered at Beth Shalom Congregation in Columbia on Monday evening for a vigil to remember those lost in the Tree of Life synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh.

“But we didn’t want to appear to be showcasing the damage to Ellicott City, either,” Gillette said. “It cuts both ways.”

As the Ellicott City historic district continues its second slog toward recovery in as many years — May’s flood eclipsed a July 2016 flash flood in its severity — many businesses at the lower end of Main Street remain boarded up.

Gillette said that while no one wanted to be the first to say the annual Ellicott City Veteran’s Day Parade might be better staged elsewhere this year, many questioned how the beleaguered mill town could muster the time and energy to focus on event planning and logistics with recovery work actively under way.


After weighing the pros and cons, organizers reached a consensus, he said.

The parade will run from 9:30 a.m. to 10:45 a.m., followed by a ceremony at 11 a.m. and family-friendly activities from noon to 2 p.m.

Activities will include a station to make cards to mail to active-duty troops and a display of vintage military vehicles and police cruisers.

County Executive Allan Kittleman and Columbia Association President and CEO Milton Matthews will join Gillette in addressing the gathering at the terminus of the parade in the parking lot of Whole Foods Market.

Matthews emphasized that the Columbia Association is not lobbying to host the parade in Columbia permanently, and there has been no formal discussion about plans for 2019.

The Elkridge High School Task Force is recommending a site located predominantly on Washington Boulevard and another on Mansion Lane for the county’s future 14th high school.  

As head of the veterans foundation, Gillette is spearheading creation of a county monument to veterans and their families to be erected at Columbia’s lakefront in a plaza near Whole Foods. He said combining the county’s Veterans Day observances this year makes sense for all involved, and is fortunate for the nonprofit foundation as it works toward breaking ground in the spring for the monument.

Land for the monument — which will be a celebration of past, current and future military personnel and their families — was dedicated in June 2017.

The monument will be situated in what will be known as Neighborhood Square, part of the Downtown Columbia Master Plan submitted by the Howard Hughes Corporation and approved earlier this year, he said.

“We are somewhat married to the Howard Hughes timeline on Neighborhood Square, since we can’t place the monument until it’s done,” Gillette said, adding that it’s being worked on to be completed when the site is ready.

Matthews said he has always viewed Columbia’s tribute to veterans as complementary to Ellicott City’s parade, not in competition with it.

“When I came here in June 2014 I was very much aware of the Ellicott City parade, but I wanted to see something additional,” he said.

“With 20,000 veterans living in Howard County and given our proximity to Fort Meade, it was important to me” that Columbia do something to observe the holiday, he said. “Recognizing and honoring veterans has been integral to all the communities I’ve served.”

Matthews said honoring veterans is also a personal mission for him.

“If I can take off my CA hat, I want to say that Veterans Day is important to me as there are veterans on both sides of my family,” he said. “And I would’ve served if drafted after registering [with the Selective Service] as a high school senior in Accomack County, Va., as the Vietnam War was winding down.”

While past celebrations in Columbia have drawn about 100 people, Matthews said, he believes this year’s combined event on a Sunday will attract a bigger audience.

The event is being organized by the Veterans Day Parade Committee, the Howard County Veterans Foundation, the Howard County Office of Veterans and Military Families, the county government, the Howard Hughes Corporation and Columbia Association.

A moment of silence will be observed during the ceremony to honor those who have given their lives to defend the United States.

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The poem “In Flanders Fields” will be read to mark the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day — the former name of Veterans Day, and the milestone that marked the cessation of hostilities between the Allied nations and Germany during World War I.

Theresa Mills-Karlson — an active member of Maryland Gold Star Mothers whose son, Marine Lance Cpl. Eugene C. Mills III of Laurel, was killed in action in Afghanistan in 2012 at age 21 — will be honored.

Mills-Karlson’s other son, Jacob Mills, served in the Marines for four years.

Musical performances by the Young Columbians and Voices for Vets will add to the post-parade festivities, as will a JROTC color guard unit from Atholton High School.

Gillette said this year’s event “is meant to be a celebration of the county’s veterans, active-duty military personnel and first responders for all that they’ve done and continue to do.”

That stance is very much in keeping with the message organizers want to send, he said.

“In post-9/11 America, we in Howard County are trying to be thought leaders,” Gillette said of efforts to expand the tribute to include hometown heroes of every stripe.

“A large number of military veterans join the ranks of police and fire departments” to continue their commitment to service, he said. “There’s a lot of carryover.”


If you go

The 2018 Veterans Day Parade and Ceremony will begin at 9:30 a.m. Nov. 11 at Merriweather Drive and Little Patuxent Parkway, across from the MedStar Health building. Spectators should park in the mall parking lot and congregate on the sidewalk fronting Symphony Woods.

Area Scout troops, the Howard High School cheerleading squad and marching units from the Johns Hopkins University and the University of Maryland, Baltimore County will participate. There will be a review stand at South Entrance Road. The parade will terminate at 10:45 a.m. in the Whole Foods Market parking lot on the lakefront, where a 45- to 60-minute ceremony will begin at 11 a.m.

The card-making station and vintage vehicle display will be available from noon to 2 p.m. Free coffee, hot chocolate and baked goods will be offered to attendees.Food will also be available for purchase at food trucks. The Columbia Association will distribute flags to children. For details, go to columbiaassociation.org/veterans.

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