When Willard Croy’s name was called Sunday, memories started flooding back for Gainesville’s Johnny Hulsey.
The two grew up together. Both were East Hall schoolmates, except that Hulsey dropped out of high school and Croy went on to graduate.
And both ended up in Vietnam, but with Croy not returning home. The Army sergeant was killed in action on Jan. 8, 1970.
“So, I lost my buddy,” Hulsey said, fighting back tears.
He went on to address the 100 or so gathered for a Memorial Day ceremony at Rock Creek Veterans Park off Northside Drive and Academy Street in Gainesville.
“You can never forget war, when you lose a soldier,” Hulsey said. “And we have lost a lot of soldiers from Hall County.”
Veterans groups from around Hall gathered at the park to pay tribute to the area’s fallen troops, laying wreaths at memorials. Family members and veterans placed red roses at the memorials when troops’ names were called.
Veterans also formed the “soldier’s cross,” a symbolic homage to the fallen warrior, placed on the battlefield or at base camp, using military items, such as a rifle, boots and dog tags.
They also remembered veterans who died in the past year.
One of the most notable ones was Cecil Boswell, a World War II veteran known for walking along Green Street every Memorial Day parade with his green Army outfit snug around his small frame.
An empty chair with a black cover, holding a framed picture of Boswell and a red rose, was placed on the front row. Another framed picture of Boswell and a rose were placed at the base of a war memorial in the park.
“He was a Hall County hero, and we’ll miss him,” Vietnam veteran Harvey Black said to the crowd.
Boswell, who died on Feb. 19 at 99, was part of the second wave invading Normandy on D-Day, and he fought in the pivotal Battle of the Bulge and the liberation of Paris in 1944.
John Enkemann of the Gainesville-based Korean War Veterans of Georgia talked about references to the Korean War as “the forgotten war,” made largely because it was sandwiched between the high-profile World War II and Vietnam War.
“For the families and friends of the almost 34,000 … who lost their lives during the conflict, it is not forgotten,” he said.
Veterans also talked about the evolution of the city park, which began as a grassy gateway to the Rock Creek Greenway linking parks from downtown Gainesville to Lake Lanier.
It became Rock Creek Veterans Park as memorials started to line the walkways. An archway showcasing each of the U.S. armed forces was recently placed at the park’s entrance.
“This park is not full,” said Dave Dellinger, representing the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 772 in Gainesville. “It needs a few more monuments.”
“We’ve lost a few people in” wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, he added.
The park, Hulsey said, “is sacred ground to me.”
He said he sometimes grabs a hamburger from Dairy Queen and goes to the park to reflect.
“I lost three of my high school buddies in Vietnam,” he said.