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Salute to Freedom Task Force

Jim Bob Humphrey, CEO for Humphrey Funeral Service, Inc., has always held a deep respect and appreciation for the men & women who have served our nation in her various branches of the military.

Join us in honoring our veterans! Humphrey Funeral Service proudly serves as the primary corporate sponsor of the Salute to Freedom Task Force. Together, we plan and promote the Annual Pope County - Russellville Veterans Day Parade, a cherished tradition that celebrates the bravery and sacrifice of our servicemen and women. 

Mark your calendars for: Friday, November 10, 2023 - 4P.M.
as we come together to pay tribute to our heroes. For more information about the parade, check out our informative infographic alongside this message. Are you interested in participating and being part of this heartwarming event? Fill out the parade-app to join the ranks of those who salute our veterans with pride. Together, we make a difference, and together, we honor those who've given so much for our freedom.

2023 Pope County Russellville Veterans Day Parade

Sam Niemann
Grand Marshal
For the first time in the event’s history, both a Grand Marshal and a Junior Grand Marshal has been selected. U.S. Army and Vietnam War Veteran, Spec 4 Sam Lawrence Niemann, has been selected by the Salute to Freedom Task Force as the Grand Marshal.

Niemann was born in 1949 at Kingsville, Texas, moving to Hector with his parents in 1965. He was a 1968 graduate of Hector High School, and joined the Army in 1969, during the heart of the Vietnam War. After basic training at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, and Advanced Individual Training (AIT) at Fort Polk, Louisiana, Sam was attached to the II Bravo Infantry Division. He arrived at Cam Rahn Bay in South Vietnam on December 8, 1969, taken to Firebase Bastogne, before finally being stationed at Camp Eagle I Corp near Huẽ in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ).

Sam’s infantry point squad walked into an ambush on February 20, 1970, and came under heavy enemy fire in the jungle. Following orders from his squad leader, Sam advanced to the front line bearing an M-16 Machine Gun but was hit with shrapnel from a Rocket Propelled Granade (RPG), sustaining a serious chest wound and injury to his right eye. His platoon leader and squadleader were both killed in the ambush.

Medics managed to get to Sam and stabilize his injuries until a Huey EVAC helicopter could get to him and another wounded squad member. They were both lifted onto the helicopter in a cable-attached seat while still being hailed with machine gun bullets whizzing pass them through the trees. He was further treated at a hospital off the South Vietnam coast before being transferred to Japan and eventually to Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas. The Hector sheriff delivered a cable to Sam’s parents informing them that he was wounded in action, but he was unable to call and let them know he was alright until he reached San Antonio. Sam was medically discharged after 13 months of service and given the Purple Heart for his meritorious service and casualties in battle.

Like so many veterans wounded in action, Sam suffered bouts of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). It helped him work through his trauma by leading support groups for PTSD at the local Pope County Disabled American Veterans center. He also served three interim terms as the Pope County Veteran Services Officer and worked with the U.S. Postal Service in the Russellville post office.

Sam credits his relationship with Jesus Christ as his personal Lord and Savior for sparing his life and providing healing from his injuries and trauma in battle. Shortly after being wounded and lying on the battle field, Sam prayed, “God, if you will get me through this, I will serve you the rest of my life.” Sam eventually surrendered his life to the ministry and has served in the Assemblies of God, pastoring churches in Arkansas over the past 20 years.

Sam has been married to Diana (Sanders) Niemann for 53 years. They have two children: Brad Niemann and wife, Monica of Russellville, and Brandi Ray, and husband Chad of Ball Ground, Georgia, who have both blessed them with five wonderful grandchildren. Sam and Diana still call Hector their cherished home and worship with their faith family at Calvary Temple Assembly of God in Russellville.
The Junior Grand Marshal will be selected from the ROTC programs of Russellville High School and Arkansas Tech University alternately each year beginning this year with Arkansas Tech University ROTC Cadet Leighton Johnson of Hartford, Arkansas, and Private First Class with the Arkansas Army National Guard Infantry Division.

Cadet Johnson completed basic training and graduated from the United States Army Infantry School at Fort Benning, Georgia. He completed a Joint Readiness Training Center (JRTC) rotation as a light infantry 240L Gunner with the 39th Infantry Brigade, and is also a 2022 graduate of Air Assault School at Fort Benning.

Upon returning from infantry One Station Unit Training (OSUT), he enrolled at Arkansas Tech University to work on completion of his Bachelor’s Degree in Emergency Management with a minor in Military Science, enrolling in the university’s ROTC program. In August of this year, he was given the Gold Award of Merit by the Military Order of the World Wars for consistent excellence in leadership and patriotism in the 7th Regiment during ROTC Advance Camp at Fort Knox, Kentucky.

His exemplary performance as a student earned a place on the Dean’s List in each of the years 2021-2023. As a result of being a model student and ROTC cadet, Leighton has been selected as the recipient of the Major General Gary W. Johnston Leadership Award scholarship for 2023.

Leighton’s civilian work experience has awarded him the opportunity to intern in Business Continuity Management (BCM) with Simmons Bank, and as a private security contractor for RS Defense Group in Springdale, Arkansas.

Leighton is a 2020 graduate of South Side High School in Fort Smith, Arkansas. His parents are David & Michelle Johnson of Hartford.
Leighton Johnson
Junior Grand Marshal

The 2023 Pope County – Russellville Veterans Day Parade, is scheduled for this Friday, November 10, at 4:00 PM, Main Street Downtown Russellville. Heralded as the largest Veterans Day Parade in Arkansas, entries will include four area marching bands, business, civic organizations, military vehicles, church groups, motorcycle clubs, antique car clubs, scout groups, participants from local veteran’s organizations and members of the Russellville School District as well as Arkansas Tech University ROTC units. Entrants will begin gathering in the northwest parking lot of First Baptist Church beginning at 2:00 PM.

The parade route will begin at South Jonesboro and West Main Street, advance east on Main through downtown, turning north on Commerce and de-stage in the area of the train depot. Flags will be distributed to spectators along the parade route beginning 30 minutes prior to the parade. The parade will be live-streamed and hosted by River Valley Radio personality, Johnny Story, and the Parade Coordinator with the Salute to Freedom Task Force, Rick Smith.

A brief post-parade event will take place at Depot Park recognizing Vietnam Veterans who will each receive a newly-minted Vietnam Challenge Coin from the Salute to Freedom Task Force. An open house and light refreshments will be served at the Riggs-Hamilton American Legion Post #20, directly across from Depot Park following the ceremony.

Parade Application 2023

Complete the form below to participate in this years parade. It is FREE to all entrants. 

DEADLINE for entry is Wednesday Nov. 8th, 2023.

Staging Area is in the northwest parking lot of First Baptist Church Lining up westward on West 2nd Street to South Jonesboro Avenue. Parade will advance onto West Main Street from South Jonesboro at 4:00 PM. De-Staging is in the area of the Train Depot.
It was not until reading Tom Brokaw’s book, “The Greatest Generation,” a profile of World War II Veterans, that a fire was ignited to lead our community in extending the kind of honor and recognition to Veterans they so richly deserve and our community so needed to express.

Out of those initial efforts, the Pope County Salute to Freedom Task Force was born. Made up of representative members from local community organizations established to support Veterans, including the Veterans of Foreign War, American Legion, Disabled American Veterans, the Military Officers of American Association, and others; this task force has met annually for more than 15 years to plan and promote community events to honor Veterans and their families.

Honoring Local Units

With Russellville serving as home to the Arkansas Army National Guard’s 206th Field Artillery Battalion, the Task Force staged deployment ceremonies and homecoming celebrations for these troops and their families upon deployment to Desert Storm, Desert Shield and Iraqi Enduring Freedom campaigns during periods from 2005 to 2013.

Annual Veterans Day Parade & Events

Each year since 2000, the Salute to Freedom Task Force has planned and promoted the annual Pope County – Russellville Veterans Day Parade and associated activities. The parade has grown to be one of the largest in the state of Arkansas, and many of the events have featured post-parade ceremonies that recognized World War I, World War II, Korean, Vietnam, Desert Storm, Desert Shield and Iraqi Enduring Freedom Veterans and their families. These events gained wide-spread support and state-wide news coverage.

Challenge Coin Series

In commemoration of these Veterans and military campaigns, the Task Force has issued limited editions of Challenge Coins since 2009, minted in recognition of Veterans and Guard & Reserve soldiers serving during these wartimes. They have been presented in honor fashion to individual soldiers during various ceremony events sponsored by the Task Force.

Soldier Bear Projec

One of the most unique activities of the Task Force was the Soldier Bear project that began in 2007. Designed for children of deployed guardsmen & reservists, it featured a teddy bear dressed in military khakis, complete with dog tags and a special audio device with a pre-recorded greeting to the child from his or her military parent. When the 206th Field Artillery Battalion and the 39th Infantry Brigade was deployed in 2008, over 400 children received their Soldier Bear in a special ceremony held on May 12, 2008. The project was so successful, it gained national recognition by Four-Star General Craig McKinley, Chief of the National Guard Bureau.

Humphrey Funeral Service, Inc., is proud to be the major corporate sponsor of the Pope County Salute to Freedom Task Force, and remains committed to its work in the River Valley community in honoring our national Veterans.
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