Annual event held at Valley Community Center
VALLEY — Monday was the 150th anniversary of the holiday we now call Memorial Day. It began a few years after the Civil War and was known as Decoration Day. Its purpose was to honor the sacrifices of the men in blue and gray who had died in a war that had claimed the lives of over 600,000 Americans. There have been more costly wars involving the U.S. since that time and the early Decoration Day holidays have taken the role off honoring all American soldiers who died in wars to defend our nation.
Locally, this national holiday was observed in a ceremony held in the Bobby Crowder Room inside Valley Community Center. It’s normally held outdoors at Veterans Memorial Park but was switched to an inside location this year due to the approach of Subtropical Storm Alberto and the uncertainty of the weather.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Tet Offensive, widely regarded as a turning point in the Vietnam War. A majority of the 14 local men who died in Vietnam were killed in combat in 1968.
The theme of this year’s program was to honor those local soldiers who died in Vietnam and to recognize family members who still live in the local area.
Post Commander Lanny Bledsoe t0ld a large gathering present for the event that Memorial Day isn’t just a day off work and a day to go to the beach and have cook outs.
“It’s all right to do that,” he said, “just as long as we remember the reason we have this holiday in the first place. Honoring those who died for our country comes first.”
Bledsoe said that Veterans Park is hallowed ground.
“We have some memorials there that contain the names of 93 young men from our area who went off to war and made the supreme sacrifice. They made a sacrifice for the freedoms we enjoy today. We don’t live in a perfect country, but it’s the best one the world has ever had. Sadly, it appears to me that a lot of people in our country don’t appreciate the sacrifices our soldiers have made.”
Bledsoe thanked everyone in the room for doing the right thing by being at a program to honor fallen soldiers.
“Freedom never comes cheaply,” said Mayor Leonard Riley. “The cost is always high and is paid for in the blood and lives of the men and women in our armed services who willingly put themselves in harm’s way to protect our nation and her citizens.”
“We owe these men and women our deepest respect, admiration and gratitude and should honor them for their sacrifice, not only today, but every day we – because of their valor – can continue to live in the ‘land of the free and the home of the brave.’ May God bless these men and women, their families, and may God bless the United States of America.”
Former Valley Mayor Arnold Leak, a decorated helicopter pilot from the Vietnam era, read the names of the 14 local men. They are: Larry O’Neal Adamson of Fairfax, who died in 1969; Richard Louis Barnes, Five Points, 1970; Lewis Andrew Callaway, West Point, 1969; Willie James Foster, West Point, 1968; Billy Monroe Gross, Fairfax, 1968; John Calvin Halsey, West Point, 1971; Larry Edwin Hill, West Point, 1968; Wallace Sylvester Little, River View, 1968; Wilbur Dean Monroe, Langdale, 1968; Jerry Rudolph Moon, Lanett, 1967; Thomas Larry Senn, Lanett, 1968; Wilmer Franklin Simpkins, Fairfax, 1968; Roy Edward Thomas, LaFayette, 1966; and Roy Delano Watts, Lanett, 1966.
Leak said it was an honor for him to read those names and that he’d known some of them before he went to Vietnam. He said that the man he replaced had been killed two days before he got there.
“I slept in his bunk my first night there,” he said.
He said that one of his best friends in the war, Chief Warrant Officer D0n Kilpatrick, was killed on a night mission. His son, Don Kilpatrick Jr., later was awarded a Silver Star for his actions in the Iraq/Afghanistan conflicts.
“He pinned in on the wall (in honor of his dad) at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.”
Some family members of the 14 local soldiers were recognized. Ruby Hill, sister of Larry Adamson, said that her brother had been there on two months before he was killed. Two sisters (Jean Shirley and Mary Edwards) and a brother (Tom Callaway) of Lewis Callaway were present.
“I worked with Lewis before he went to Vietnam,” Leak said. “He was a nice guy, very kind to people.”
“He answered the call,” added Mrs. Shirley. “He was there only three months before he died.”
Valley resident Bennie Gross said he was proud of Billy’s service and was thankful for what the Legion was doing.
“He would be proud of you being here today,” said Leak. “I knew Frankie Simpkins. I went to school with him. He was a good man.”
Veterans present at the service who had served in Vietnam were asked to come to the front and say what year they served. Sammy Newton, the post vice commander, was in Vietnam from 1969-71; 20-year Army veteran Otis White was there in 1968; John Miles, 1967-68; Gene Clark, 1965-66; Ralph Pitts, 1968-69; David May, 1970-71; Brian McGee, 1968-69; Al Schofell, three tours of duty in the 1960s and early 1970s; Bill Jones, 1965-66 and 1969-70; Fred Milton, 1970-71; Sid Edwards. 1969-70; Arnold Leak, 1968-69; Sonny Murphy; DuWayne Bridges and Bill Williams, who did two tours of duty with special forces (green berets) in the 1960s and another with the 101st Airborne Division.
“I was proud to serve my country when called upon,” said Williams, who at one point spent six months at Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C. recovering from wounds.
“What we’ve heard today should give each person here a feeling for the sacrifices some people have made for our country,” said Bledsoe, citing statistics showing that more than 99 percent of our current population is not in military service at any point in time.
“We still have thousands of people in harm’s way,” he said. “Many of them serve multiple tours of duty. We need to keep them in our prayers and in our hearts. I thank those of you who served and the familes who are here today. Post 67 is always available to provide whatever assistance we can to today’s young veterans. We would love for you to join us and help with veterans’ issues. We meet at 6:30 p.m. on the second Tuesday of every month at Sunny’s Restaurant in Valley. We would love for any veteran to join us.”