Beloved veteran honored in emotional program at GCHS

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Photos by Kaitlin Hoskins.


By Kaitlin Hoskins, news editor

A program honoring those who served in the various branches of the United States military was a somber yet uplifting event at Gadsden City High School on Wednesday, November 8.

The Gadsden City High School concert choir and symphonic band performed and members of the school’s JROTC program escorted veterans through the school’s halls and into the gymnasium where the annual Veterans Day program was taking place.

While all veterans who attended the program were honored guests and shown due respect, one guest was given a little extra attention — Lt. Col. Carl Harrison.

Harrison, born August 11, 1933 in Pell City, graduated from Gadsden High School in 1952 and directly following his high school graduation he began his life-long career in the military in the ROTC program at Polytechnic Institute (now named Auburn University).

In 1953 he moved on to Jacksonville State University and later, in January of 1957, he earned his degree in secondary education and was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant through the ROTC program.

In March of 1957, Harrison entered active duty at Fort Eustis in Virginia. While there, he completed transportation officer basic course and received his first assignment to the transportation terminal command post in Newfoundland, Canada.

Harrison was stationed around the world throughout his military career. The Infantry Center Troop Command at Fort Benning in Georgia in 1960; Railway Maintenance Activity in Heidelberg, Germany in 1961; Air Calvary Division in Vietnam in 1965; back to Fort Eustis for transportation officer career training in 1966; and after completion of that course he was sent to the 12th US ASA Field Station in Chitose, Japan.

Harrison completed 20 years of active duty before officially retiring in 1976.

After retiring from the military, he was not quite done with his acts of service. He was approached about creating a JROTC program at Carver High School in Birmingham. He spent seven years there, leading the program, before being asked to create a JROTC program in his hometown of Gadsden. He created programs for all three of the high schools in Gadsden in 1984 (Gadsden High, Emma Sansom High and Litchfield High) and continued leading the program once the three high schools consolidated in 2006.

Harrison was the JROTC instructor at Gadsden City High School until he retired this year and the students still love and respect their former instructor.

The respect was evident as he received numerous standing ovations from students, faculty members and guests during the school’s annual Veterans Day event this week.

Those students hold a special place in Harrison’s heart. He has said in the past that he has thousands of children and grandchildren (he has two biological sons, Rick and Mike) because all of his former cadets and all of his former cadets’ children are his children and grandchildren.

Though Harrison was in a wheelchair for most of the program, he stood many times in his well-pressed uniform to show respect to the flag, the nation and his fellow veterans in attendance.

Gadsden Mayor Craig Ford, who stated he was not ordinarily an emotional man, was fighting back tears while presenting Harrison with an official proclamation naming Wednesday, November 8, 2023, “Lt. Col. Harrison Day” in the City of Gadsden.

“[Harrison] I’m not an emotional person,” Ford said. “But when it comes to you, I am. It is quite an honor for me [to present this proclamation]. You represent the City of Gadsden and the State of Alabama and the country’s standards. It is an honor to be here to present this to you.”

Ford thanked Harrison for his duty — not only to his country, but to his city as well.

Nearly 20 of Harrison’s relatives were present for the special program. His wife, Marlene Clark Harrison, was adorned in patriotic colors and sat by his side for a large portion of the event. The couple, who celebrates their 70th wedding anniversary in January were seen holding hands and smiling frequently after Ford presented the proclamation.

Harrison himself had a few tears in his eyes when he delivered the closing remarks of the program. He expressed gratitude toward everyone in the room and took the opportunity to brag about other people instead of himself.

“I hope that everybody can experience such a humble occasion,” Harrison said. “Craig Ford has been my family since I played football with his dad at Gadsden. This is kind of a family reunion here with all of my family here. I appreciate you. Oh man, this is just so humbling. I should say something about Mr. Blackwell and the Gadsden City School Board. Every administrator and every principal I have ever asked for anything never told me ‘no’. I’ve never been to a school that have their students behave like y’all do. Just one more time, I want to tell you ‘thank you’ and my family thanks you and it’s just been a wonderful day. Thank you.”

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