Gainesville native and retired U.S. Army veteran Channing Moss has seen and endured a lot during his 40 years on Earth, but he hasn’t done anything like what he will do on Memorial Day.
Moss, a West Hall High School graduate, will be the grand marshal during this year’s Memorial Day parade in Gainesville, and says he’s honored to be given the opportunity to see the parade from a new point of view.
“I feel very elated to be representing Gainesville in a prominent way,” Moss said. “It is a one-of-a- kind situation to be representing the home team on Memorial Day.”
Moss’ invitation to lead the way on Memorial Day had been planned for some time, according to Andre Castleberry, commander of the Paul E. Bolding American Legion Post 7.
“The reason I wanted Channing to be our grand marshal is personal and somewhat selfish,” Castleberry explained.
Castleberry said he wanted this year’s parade to be led by a veteran with direct ties to the local community, similar to last year when Jerome Yarbrough, a retired fire chief and veteran, was the grand marshal. Moss immediately came to mind.
“I want our parades to be reflective of our community,” Castleberry said. “Channing is a product of our community and an inspiration to his peers and the generation following him.”
Moss and Castleberry will meet for the first time when Moss returns to Gainesville from his home in Jacksonville, Florida, a few days before the parade.
“I haven’t met him personally, but I’ve learned enough about him to know he’s a special breed,” Castleberry said.
‘I’m still here’
Moss isn’t nervous about being named grand marshal of the Memorial Day parade. He saw so much during his three and a half years as a soldier and went through even more following a day in eastern Afghanistan that changed his life forever, nothing makes him nervous anymore.
“I’m still here,” Moss said as he recounted March 16, 2006.
Seventeen years later, he has a minute-by-minute recall of the moment his unit, 10th Mountain Division, was ambushed by the enemy. During the gun battle, a rocket propelled grenade (RPG) went through the windshield of their humvee, also known as a high mobility multipurpose wheeled vehicle, but failed to explode. Instead the RPG impaled Moss, who was in the humvee’s gunner position, simultaneously putting him and the entire unit in danger.
“They hit us with two rockets at first and then the third rocket came through the top of the truck,” Moss said.
Quick thinking from the unit’s medic, a medevac team and hospital personnel saved Moss’ life. Remembering back to that moment and all of the moments that followed, including several surgeries, learning to walk again and retiring from the military in his mid 20s, Moss remains proud of his service to his country.
“I feel like we made a difference,” he said. “There are always casualties of war, and I was pierced in the side for my nation.”
Moss continues to thank the men and women that helped save his life while in Afghanistan and back in the United States at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, among other medical centers he visited during his recovery. Moss says his left leg remains paralyzed, but he has made a virtually full recovery, both physically and mentally.
“God has played an amazing part in my life,” he said.
Moss, who has lived in Florida the past two years and works as a military and veteran service center administrator, attends service at The Church at Eleven22, a non-denominational church in Jacksonville.
A third generation soldier, Moss’ grandfather fought in World War II, his father fought in Vietnam and uncle in the Korean War. Moss called enlisting in the army “his calling” and remembers the moment he made the decision to join the men in his family in the military.
“I sat down one afternoon and watched a news segment about the military and, right then and there, decided to join the army,” Moss recalled. “I wanted to pick up the baton and serve the country like my grandfather, father and uncle did.”
Moss’ daughter has continued the family tradition and is currently in basic training for an undisclosed military branch. He said he is proud of her decision to extend the family military timeline to a fourth generation.
“I guess that’s a fourth generation in the military,” Moss said.
Celebration of life
Moss refers to Memorial Day as a day of remembrance, but also for celebrating the lives lived by those that have served this country.
“To me, Memorial Day means a celebration of life,” Moss explained. “It means we get to remember all of the individuals that served this country and have unfortunately passed away.”
“I feel like it’s a great honor every time I am able to show an aspect of life,” Moss said of not only surviving war but being able to show support for those who have not at the Memorial Day parade. He knows full well that for every story of recovery, there are many more that end quite differently.
Castleberry, also a veteran with a son in the U.S. Marine Corps, believes Moss should be celebrated beyond the upcoming Memorial Day festivities.
“I don’t want him to ever forget that we’re proud of him and we’ll support him forever,” said Castleberry. “He’s a fighter and a leader.”
As for grand marshaling his hometown Memorial Day parade. Moss still can’t believe he’s going to be in position.
“I’m not supposed to be here,” he said. “A lot of us shipped out from bootcamp and didn’t come back. Thank God I’m still here.”