When retired Army Col. Lonnie Davidson returned to the United States after serving in World War II, he likely got a hero’s welcome. Shortly before he left for California on Sunday, Plant City gave him a hero’s send-off.
Davidson, who has moved to California to stay with his daughter, was surprised to learn he was not only part of a parade, but part of a parade meant for him — to give him the goodbye Plant City residents felt he deserved as a well-known officer and a gentleman.
It started in front of First Presbyterian Church, his home church while in Plant City. Davidson’s car arrived around 11:45 a.m. and, while he sat in the passenger seat with a Plant City Police Department cruiser in front of him, he looked behind him and saw a line of cars assemble down North Walker Street. They were adorned with American flags, handmade signs and other decorations, all for him.
Escorted by PCPD, the parade line made its way through Plant City and stopped briefly in front of Davidson’s Walden Lake home. He stood on the edge of his driveway flanked by family and neighbors as nearly 30 cars passed by his home, a line that drew many other Walden Lake residents out of their homes and into their yards to see what was going on. Each car in line stopped in front of Davidson so their occupants could chat and share a memory, thank him for his service, say goodbye and wish him well on his next stop in life.
The colonel has seen many things in his long, eventful life, but this parade still left him in awe well after the last car looped down the end of his street and left the neighborhood.
“This is the most humbling experience of my life,” Davidson said as that car drove off toward Timberlane Road.
Coming from Davidson, that’s high praise. This is a man who served overseas from 1942 to 1946, who was there for both the “D-Day” battle at Omaha Beach and the Battle of the Bulge in a span of six months, who was later named a Knight of the French Legion of Honor for his service in that country and whose life story was told in the book “Duty, Honor, Country” by Kelli Tharrington.
Davidson, who is a Tennessee native, and his wife Helen moved to Plant City in 1988. He said his 32 years here marked the longest time he’s ever stayed in one place.
City commissioner Mike Sparkman, a longtime friend and neighbor of Davidson’s, helped organize the parade and asked PCPD to provide the escort from the church to Walden Lake. Sparkman said Davidson — whom virtually everyone calls “the colonel” — became such a treasured part of the community that his friends and family couldn’t possibly let him leave quietly.
“We put it together just this week,” Sparkman said. “Everybody’s having parades and drive-bys for birthdays and stuff, and I thought this was proper to honor him.”
Sparkman himself recorded a string of videos during the parade and is combining them into a package to give to Davidson and his family as a reminder that the small Florida town he called home for more than three decades is grateful he chose to become a part of it.
Plant City won’t soon forget Davidson and, especially after the Sunday send-off, the colonel won’t soon forget Plant City.
“God bless,” Davidson said. “I love each and every one of you.”