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Honoring the fallen

VFW seeks to honor Medal of Honor winners

VFW Commander Billy Gates, left, and Legion Commander Billy Elder prepare to place the memorial wreath.

News Staff Writer

Although the threat of bad weather probably played some part, Atmore’s 2018 Memorial Day observance seemed to follow a national trend — it was attended by only about 50 people, many of whom still haven’t grasped the difference between the national holiday and other holidays aimed at military veterans.
“All the veterans’ holidays are equally important: Armed Forces Day, Memorial Day, Veterans Day,” said Billy Gates, commander of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 7016 in Atmore, prior to the community’s May 28 observance. “Most folks associate Memorial Day and Veterans Day to be the same thing. They’re not. Veterans Day is to honor all veterans; Memorial Day is to honor those who lost their lives in service to their country.”
Gates said other misunderstandings of the meaning of Memorial Day are conveyed in cheery holiday greetings and — a fate that has plagued most other days of celebration — over-commercialization.
“Everybody says, ‘Happy Memorial Day’ to you,” he pointed out. “No, Memorial Day is a solemn day; the people we honor are dead and gone. Then it’s, ‘come buy a new car or a new mattress.’ People just aren’t as patriotic as they used to be.”
Those who attended this year’s local observance, held inside Atmore City Hall’s auditorium due to expected rain, might or might not have fully understood the meaning of the holiday. But each realized before it ended the importance and significance of the program’s main focus.
A fair portion of the ritual honoring the nation’s ultimate war casualties was spent on Escambia County’s two Medal of Honor winners — Sgt. William Wayne Seay, a 19-year-old Brewton soldier who fought valiantly when the resupply convoy of which he was a part was ambushed by a battalion of North Vietnamese troops in 1968, and Cpl. Sidney E. Manning, who took command of the survivors within his company and forced German troops to retreat despite being severely wounded in 1918, during World War I.
Seay’s heroic actions were the last of his life; he was buried with full military honors in Brewton’s Weaver Cemetery. Manning lived until December 1960 and was buried, also with full military honors, at an undisclosed site in Flomaton.
Two of Manning’s descendants — great-niece Joan Manning Johnston and great-great-niece Linda Barnes Combs, both of Mobile — were at the Atmore memorial service.
State Rep. Alan Baker read a joint resolution that called for designation of the portion of U.S. 31 between Atmore and Flomaton as the Cpl. Sidney E. Manning Memorial Highway, and a similar one that called for designation of the portion of the same highway between Brewton and Flomaton as the Sgt. William W. Seay Memorial Highway.
The state legislator then presented a copy of the Manning resolution to Post 7016 trustee Bobby Lanier, who presented it to the two Mobile women in commemoration of their ancestor’s heroic deeds.
“We asked [State Senator] Greg Albritton if he would introduce it in the Senate, and it passed,” Gates said. “Then it passed in the House. Everything was going smooth until we hit the [Alabama Department of Transportation]. We found out that the DOT doesn’t furnish the signs and markers free, that it will cost $7,000 for both signs.”
Lanier started a GoFundMe account as a means of soliciting the necessary funding, and Gates told the audience that anyone wishing to make a “community service project donation” could do so through that account.
The emphasis on the county’s two Medal of Honor winners made the rest of the observance almost anti-climactic.
Mayor Jim Staff spoke for a minute or two, and keynote speaker Bobby Davis delivered a brief address, most of it having to do with the history of the holiday, which was originally called Decoration Day.
Following those remarks, Gates and American Legion Post 90 Commander Billy Elder placed a large red, white and blue wreath in front of the speaker’s podium. An inverted rifle, with a set of dog tags and a helmet hanging from it, as well as a pair of combat boots flanking it at the base, stood nearby and provided another reminder of the holiday’s finality.
Lana Langford delivered a stirring rendition of the National Anthem, and the program’s most emotional moments came when Harold Madison, Lloyd Albritton, Joel Mackety and Ronnie Albritton read the names of each local soldier, sailor, airman or marine who gave the ultimate sacrifice in war, as well as a list of veterans who survived their respective wars but passed away during the past 12 months.
Complete silence prevailed as each of the readers recited the names from his list. As each completed his portion of the program, Jimmy Biggs rang a bell, the metallic peal of which chillingly and quietly echoed off the walls of the municipal facility, solidifying the solemnity of the observance.
As Post 7016 Chaplain Glenn Wardrop had delivered the invocation, Post 90 Chaplain Jack Wright delivered the benediction, bringing the observance to an end.

Taking part in the program were, from left, Mayor Jim Staff, Rep. Alan Baker, Bobby Davis, Lana Langford, Chaplain Glenn Wardrop, Chaplain Jack Wright

A grim reminderNews Photos by Ditto Gorme