Emotional. Smiles and handshakes soon turned to bowed heads and teary eyes. And men’s big hands waved small flags. And everyone applauded as the veterans’ branch of the military was recognized.
This was the fourth annual Vietnam Veterans Day program, sponsored by the Atmore Memorial VFW Auxiliary, held in Atmore.
The keynote speaker this year was Judge Jeff White, himself a decorated veteran of Operation Desert Storm and later service in Iraq. Honoring the military is close to his heart – he’s been there.
During his remarks, he had to stop several times to compose himself. He talked about hearing the body counts on the national news program each night – how many were killed in Vietnam. He remembered when the servicemen came home and their gaunt faces. He talked about his belief in American Exceptionalism – “We don’t have a perfect country,” Judge White said, “but what the flag stands for is perfect.”
Alabama National Guard Lt. Colonel (ret.) Jeff White read the following piece he authored.
In your youth you were called upon to sacrifice, to defend a land and people of which you knew little. You embarked from the land of Milk and Honey. You disembarked at the gates of hell.
Through countless hardships and struggles you gave. You surrendered your time, your family, your comfort, your innocence. You did not complain, but in the proud heritage of our great nation you responded to your country’s request. You did not seek refuge from your responsibility across the border or in some fabricated excuse, you served.
While turmoil and political strife back home threatened to unravel the precious cloth of liberty, you persevered, through the harsh and unforgiving natural elements, constantly threatened by a formidable enemy, through homesickness, violence and death, you did not waiver.
You answered the call of your countrymen and you did your job well. You should have returned heroes, yet you were often treated as anything but, castigated, at times humiliated, you returned to your home without the recognition or appreciation you so richly deserved.
The ignorance of the time cannot be explained or defended. War is a horrible thing, however let us never be so naïve to think war is not sometimes necessary. There will ALWAYS be enemies of freedom … liberty will always be a target of evil. I pray there will always be heroes like you, prepared to sacrifice and take a stand against the enemy and the evil.
War can represent the worst in human nature, hatred, anger and violence. It brings darkness and suffering upon the poor souls caught in its clutch. But in a strange dichotomy, war also exposes the best of being human: courage, sacrifice and love. Courage to face the violence of armed conflict, the sacrifice of one’s self for the greater good, and the Love of one’s country and fellow man. Your service represents those finest virtues of the human race.
I pray that time has softened your memories, that God has healed your mind, your body and your soul.
Nothing I can say here today can change the way you were treated so many years ago. I can only say that those of us here recognize your service and sacrifice. We are humbly before you today, many years late, but heartfelt just the same, to recognize you for what you are, heroes and patriots. Thank you and on behalf of a grateful community, WELCOME HOME OUR HEROES, WELCOME HOME DEAR PATRIOTS, WELCOME HOME.
Veterans attending were Danny Ray, Charles Thornton, Grady Slay, Joe Hall, Ray Taylor, Charles Cameron, Bryan Keel, Robert Minchew, Eddie McCorvey, Michael Hanks, Kenneth Crook, D. Davis, Harold Snider, Bill Nipper, Johnny Jackson Jr., John Peacock, Aubrey Stanley and Harold Askew.
The Atmore Memorial VFW Auxiliary holds Vietnam Veterans Day the last Saturday every March.