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Valley honors veterans

VALLEY — The centennial year of the American Legion was recognized as part of Monday’s Veterans Day program at Veterans Park. Mayor Leonard Riley presented a proclamation to Post Commander Lanny Bledsoe in the annual 11 a.m. program marking Armistice Day, or the end of the war to end all wars.

“It’s good to be here on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month to celebrate Veterans Day,” Bledsoe said in opening the program. “This is a special year for the American Legion. It’s 100 years old this year. It was formed by U.S. soldiers in Paris in 1919, following the end of World War I.”

In September, Bledsoe received a proclamation on behalf of the Legion from Gov. Kay Ivey recognizing the centennial year.

“We were honored by that,” Bledsoe said .“We were especially pleased five of our World War II veterans were there for the program.”

Bill Hayes, Bernard Paschal, Howard Kitchens, Ed Davis and Walter Okrutny were there for that program hosted by Bradshaw-Chambers County Library.

“All of them are in their nineties,” Bledsoe said. “It’s not easy for them to get out for such events, and we are so glad they were there. They are members of our Greatest Generation. They answered the call when we were at war with Japan and Germany and our democracy was under threat.”

Bledsoe was a child during the World War II era but could remember the impact it had on his hometown of River View.

“Almost every family had someone in service,” he said. “They were on our minds constantly, and we were eager to get any information on them that we could. One of the monuments in this park contains the names of 72 young men from the Valley who died in service to our country during World War II. We should remember them, the sacrifice they made and know their family was never the same after they died. To me, Veterans Park is hallowed ground, especially since we put these memorials here.”

Bobby Elliott, who was the post adjutant for close to 20 years, asked veterans present to keep past Post Commander Roy Hill in their prayers. He’s in the hospital in Opelika.

In introducing Mayor Leonard Riley, Bledsoe thanked him and the City of Valley for the job being done in maintaining Veterans Park.

“It looks really good here,” he said. “They keep the grass cut and have done a really good job with landscaping. We appreciate that.”

“I enjoy helping veterans and keeping this park looking the best it can,” Riley said.

The proclamation presented by the mayor noted that the American Legion was formed on March 15, 1919, and chartered by the U.S. Congress on Sept. 16, 1919. The Legion played a leading role in drafting the Serviceman’s Readjustment Act of 1944, commonly known as the GI Bill. Local posts have commemorative events such as Memorial Day programs in May and Veterans Day programs in November. Local posts advocate on behalf of needs of fellow veterans. Post 67, for example, hosts a Day for the Veteran each summer to give local veterans the opportunity to have one-on-one meetings with representatives of the VA to better understand their health benefits. Nationally, the American Legion lobbies on behalf of the interests of veterans and active duty military personnel.

Bledsoe said that he’s working with the wives of some veterans who are having trouble getting benefits for their husbands.

“Records have been lost, and they are being told they can’t prove they have served,” Bledsoe said. “This is not good. One of them served in the Korean War. They have earned their benefits though their service and are now being told it’s up to them to prove they served. The government should have these records.”

Bledsoe introduced three members of Post 67 who read the names of the 72 local men who died in World War II.

“Bobby Elliott was our post adjutant for close to 20 years,” he said. “He has done a lot to help keep this post together. Frank Hartley drove a van to Tuskegee for 12 years, transporting local veterans to the VA hospital for their medical needs. He did this as a volunteer. Sammy Newton has succeeded Bobby as our adjutant and is doing a great job. I appreciate these three men so much. They mean a lot to Post 67.”

Bledsoe thanked all veterans for their military service. 

“World War II lasted four years,” Bledsoe said. “We lost an average of 18 men each year of the war. What would be the reaction today if we lost 18 men a year in a war? World War II was a different time and place. We have men with us today who served in Vietnam and others who served honorably in periods when we didn’t have people in harm’s way. We thank you all for your service. You did right by serving our country.”

Elliott, Hartley and Newton took turns reading the names. They told the man’s name who died, the date and where they were in the world when they made that ultimate sacrifice. Some died in famous war zones such as North Africa, Sicily, Italy, Normandy, the Battle of the Bulge, The Philippines, Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima and Okinawa. Some died in training accidents, automobile mishaps or natural causes. Three men with local ties died when the Japanese ship transporting them from The Philippines to Japan as prisoners of war sank in the South China Sea. Some died as close to the Valley as Fort Benning in Columbus and others as far away as Perth, Australia, the one inhabited place on earth that’s the farthest distance from the Valley.

Newton said a closing prayer and thanked everyone for coming to the program. Valley Police Chief Tommy Weldon played taps, ending with a solemn moment of reflection.