Memorial Day program in Valley honors local heroes who paid the cost of freedom

Published 8:00 am Wednesday, May 31, 2023

VALLEY — A large crowd present for Monday’s Memorial Day program in Veterans Memorial Park heard a West Point graduate talk about two men he had known at the Academy who died in Afghanistan and local Veterans Service Officer Yvonne Pritchett discussed how the need to save soldiers goes on long after the combat has ceased.

Lanny Bledsoe, commander of Post 67 of the American Legion, opened the program by saying that every day on the calendar is special but that two of the most special days every year are Memorial Day in late May and Veterans Day in mid November. Post 67 hosts programs on these two days every year.

“This is a good crowd here today, and we are pleased to see it,” he said, “but we ought to have even larger turnouts on days like today. There are 93 names on four monuments in this park that remind us that the price of freedom is costly.”

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The monuments list the names of local soldiers who died in World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam and in the Afghanistan/Iraq wars. Seventy-two died in WW II, six in Korea, 14 in Vietnam and one in Afghanistan.

“We don’t want these men to be forgotten,” Bledsoe said. “We’d like to see students in local schools to come here on field trips. I’m concerned that many of our young people today don’t know how wars affect everyone in the country.”

Bledsoe talked about one WW II battle – Iwo Jima – brought home the harsh reality of war to our local community. It was a bloody battle for both U.S. soldiers and the 21,000 Japanese defenders of the island. On March 2, 1945, two local men, Fred Brown of Lanett and Jack Nealy of Fairfax, were killed during the fight for Iwo Jima.

It was something that would always bring sorrow for their family members and others who knew them.

Bledsoe said he knew a man from Fairfax who had a dangerous and difficult job to do during the assault on Iwo Jima.

“Horace Hawkins was in the Navy and a coxswain on a landing craft,” Bledsoe said. “He worked to take soldiers ready for battle in for landings early in the day and bring back wounded soldiers and those who had died later in the day. He did that for five weeks, and it would stay with him for the rest of his life.”

Bledsoe thanked everyone for coming to the service but expressed concerns about today’s generation’s commitment to military service.

“The men whose names are on these monuments gave their lives to defend our country and our way of life,” he said. “It concerns me when I read that our branches of the military are having trouble filling their quotas and that many who sign up are not passing their physicals. We have serious problems in our country, and I am concerned that there are not enough serious people in charge of things. I am also concerned about the direction of our county we are getting from Washington.”

In introducing Mayor Leonard Riley to speak at the Memorial Day service, Bledsoe thanked the city for its support of the Legion’s Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day programs. He also thanked the city for its keeping Veterans Memorial Park looking nice.“I am proud to be an American, and I am proud to be able to give honor to those who have given their lives in defense of this great country of ours and to say ‘Thank you’ to those who have served and those who are currently serving.”

Riley said that veterans are symbols of what makes our nation great. “We must never forget all they have done to ensure our freedom,” he said. “On July 4 we celebrate the birth of our nation. On this day, May 29, we call to mind the deaths of those who died that our nation might live. Those who died poured out their blood like water in order that our mighty national structure should not crumble into meaningless ruins. May God bless the men and women who have served our country. They are heroes as well as patriots. God bless all our service members, and God bless the United States of America.”

Bledsoe introduced two men from the River View community who served our country in the Army and who are now active in the local community. They are members of Lodge No. 876, Valley, who cooked hot dogs and hamburgers for everyone at the program.

“I want to thank Shirra and Sherrill Roberts for being here today and for what they continue to do for the community,” Bledsoe said.

May 29 is an important anniversary for Sherrill Roberts. Thirty years ago to the day he graduated from the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, New York, He told the crowd that he would never forget that day.

“I put on my cadet greys for the last time that day and marched to the football stadium with my classmates,” he said. “It was the last time we’d ever be together as a class. I still think of many of them as the years go by.”

Two people he thinks about a lot are Dario Lorenzetti and Stephen Wright. They were killed in Afghanistan. “Stephen was a dear friend of mineN” he said. “I looked up to him, He was a great left handed baseball pitcher. I can remember him being the winning pitcher in some big games we won against Yale.”

After being a cadet at West Point, Wright was a helicopter pilot in Afghanistan. He and 14 others lost their lives when their helicopter crashed while they were trying to rescue a group of Navy Seals made famous in the “Lone Survivor” book and movie.

“I often think about Dario and Stephen, especially on days like Memorial Day,” Roberts said. “They are the kind of men who did what President Lincoln said about giving the last full measure of devotion to their country.”

The guest speaker for the day, Yvonne Triplett, is Chambers County’s Veterans Service Officer (VSO). She has an office on the second floor of the Chambers County Courthouse Annex in Lanett. She was in the Army from 2005-2014 and now works with local veterans in helping them get the benefits they are entitled to.

“I do not want any veteran to leave my office feeling like they have to go someplace else to talk to someone,” she said. “I want them to know they are getting the help they need and deserve.”

Pritchett is capable of doing some incredible things. She’;s 47 years old and has an 18-month old son. Eli is the pride and joy of her life. Eli is gregarious. He was with her at the program and waved his tiny U.S. flag for many of the people he met on Monday.

Pritchett said there are a total of 2,292 veterans in Chambers County.

“Two of our local veterans committed suicide last year,” she said. “They say that some veterans who commit suicide had PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder). I disagree with that. I think all of them had it.”

A total of 18 Chambers County veterans died last year.

Triplett advises veterans to make sure their spouse knows were their DD-214 forms are.

“They can pay off your funeral and provide benefits to your spouse,” she said.

Triplett can help veterans with scholarship money to help send them to college.

“It will play up to ten semesters,” she said.

Veterans are also entitled to fishing licenses at no charge.

“We did 3,841 scholarships last year,” she said. “Ninety-nine of them were from Chambers County.”

A veteran who is 100 percent disabled can stay for free at the Bill Nichols Veterans Home in Alexander City. If they are 70 percent disabled, they can stay there at a reduced rate. If they are 10 to 60 percent disabled, it’s $368 a month. Pritchett said she is eager to help any Chambers County veteran she can. She has a master’s degree from Jacksonville State University and is determined to prove that a woman can do the kind of work she does.

“When someone tells me a woman can’t do it, I think of what an officer once told me about everyone putting on their pants one leg at a time. Anyone who thinks a woman can’t do it must have theirs on backward.”

“I’m Yvonne,” she concluded. “I’m at the annex. Cone and see me if you are a veteran who needs assistance. Thank you all for giving me today.”