The main focus of the belated Veterans Day observance held Monday (November 13) at Atmore City Hall was to pay the traditional homage to the men and women who have fought to ensure the continuation of the freedoms enjoyed in this country. But it also included a salute to the future.
A color guard of youngsters from Boy Scouts Troop 26 posted the U.S. and state flags, and a group of Escambia County Middle School choir students serenaded the 70-plus attendees, including about two dozen veterans, with patriotic, spiritual and pop songs.
Mayor Jim Staff opened the program with a reading of “It Is the Veteran,” a poem that highlights the role veterans played in establishing and protecting various Constitutional freedoms.
“If you think about it, that’s the truth,” the mayor said to the veterans, most wearing hats and caps that designated in which war they fought. “Y’all fought for our freedom, and some paid the ultimate price.”
Then he stressed the importance of the younger sets involvement in the observance.
“Really and truly, if people would stop and think, these children are the future of our country and need to know what you veterans have done,” he said.
Pastor Willie Hawthorne expounded upon that statement during the invocation.
“As we remember those that have served and those that have passed, that is only half of the task that is before us today,” the local pastor prayed. “We must also carry love, honor and duty forward to the future generations. Our children must know who (these veterans) are, what they did and even why they did it. Let us take their memories, let us take their dreams and walk forward, shouldering the call of freedom that they may know that we are so proud of what they’ve done for us and what they are still doing for us.”
The four-member color guard — Jonathan Gibbs, Ayden Bonner, Dallon Rackard and Zander Crawford — were under the direction of Life Scout Mac Henley, who was filling in for Assistant Scoutmaster Greg Babiak. They performed their duties with military precision.
Once the flags were in their stands, Megan Young and Sandy Hollinger offered a harmonious singing of the National Anthem, then VFW Post 7016 Commander Billy Gates led the veterans and others in the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag.
“If we stop and think about those words, that’s what this country is all about, freedom,” Staff commented. “Our veterans fought for it. We might still fuss about this country, but it’s the best country in the world.”
Conrad Weber and the ECMS choir students were next. The first group, made up of 6th-graders, sang “My Country ’Tis of Thee” and “America the Beautiful” before a quartet of 7th-grade boys lightened the mood with their renditions of songs by The Jackson 5, Stevie Wonder and Ben E. King. The entire group then took the stage for a moving version of the spiritual “Let Praise Rise.”
“This is the first time out (in public) for the students, so they’re a little nervous,” Weber said to the crowd before directly addressing the veterans. “But they want to honor you and pay respect for what you’ve done.”
Prior to Pastor Derek Gobert’s benediction, the VFW commander spoke, again turning his attention to the youngsters.
“Like the mayor said to you young folks, you are the future,” said Gates. “Don’t ever take that lightly. I challenge you to read the Pledge of Allegiance and listen to the words of the National Anthem and while doing it, think about what the words are saying. It’s not just a song, not just a thing we say. They have a lot of meaning to us veterans; they should have a ton of meaning to all Americans.
“And I’d like to add one more statement to the poem the mayor read earlier. It is the veteran who gave you Friday out of school.”