Headlines News

Memorial Day

Faulty mic only a minor distraction at local observance

The Memorial Day wreath with the Veterans Monument in the background
Guest speaker Maj. Valisa Hadley

News Staff Writer

Although the public address system wasn’t cooperative at Monday’s Memorial Day observance, the holiday’s somber message came through loud and clear.
Commanders of both local veterans groups, along with the city’s mayor and a young military veteran who spent her formative years in Atmore, stressed the difference between Memorial Day, which is set aside to honor those who lost their lives in service to the country, and other holidays that focus on military personnel.
Mayor Jim Staff and a cadre of city firefighters struggled for nearly 20 minutes in an attempt to amplify the words of the speakers, but a series of microphones worked only sporadically, when at all.
Finally, after several failed attempts to get the sound system synchronized, VFW Post 7016 Commander Billy Gates tossed the faulty mic aside and the observance was carried out without amplification.
“I hope you will relay, especially to your young folks — your grandchildren, your children — what Memorial Day is about,” Gates said in his opening remarks. “It’s not about buying a new car; it’s not about replacing your mattress. It is to honor the fallen that have given the ultimate sacrifice to the freedom of this country. It’s not Veterans Day; it’s not Armed Forces Day.”
Billy Elder, who commands American Legion Post 90, expressed similar sentiments.
“Like Billy said, we’re not honoring the veterans who are walking around down here today,” Elder said. “We’re honoring the ones that are no longer with us, and their families.”
A gentle breeze blew across the area surrounding the Veterans Monument at Atmore City Hall as the program continued, providing relief from the heat for the crowd of about 75 people. Most of the crowd sat far from the speaker’s podium, in the shade of numerous trees.
And, except for the gear-grinding of an upshifting log truck and the whine of a small motorcycle, the area was consumed with quiet throughout the observance.
Staff reminded the crowd, most of them wearing military campaign hats, who the real guests of honor were.
“We’re fortunate, as one of (the veterans) said a while ago, we’re not listening to mortar rounds hitting the ground,” said the mayor, turning to point to the monument honoring locals who paid the ultimate price for freedom. “We’re free to do anything we want to do because of these people right here. They made this country; they were great to give that ultimate sacrifice.”
After Sandy Hollinger and Megan Young performed the National Anthem, and Gates led the crowd in the Pledge of Allegiance, the VFW commander introduced the keynote speaker, Maj. Valisa Hadley of the Alabama National Guard.
Gates read Hadley’s military “resume,” which stretched to more than two pages and included a Bronze Star and a tour in Afghanistan, then pointed out that 2019 is the “Year of the Female” in service branches across the nation.
Hadley, who attended Escambia County High School for three years before graduating from Baldwin County High, said she wasn’t sure at first if she was worthy of such an honor.
“I was hesitant to come here today and speak because I look across the crowd and speak to so many other people who are my senior,” she said. “For me to be the guest speaker at a Memorial Day service … Why me?
“I know that I fit Mr. Billy’s platform, since I’m a woman in the military, but I chose my platform based on so many of my seniors and elders and what I have learned and gathered from them. You have made me what I am today.”
Hadley added more reminders of the significance and purpose of the holiday, as well as the men and women it honors.
“Today we honor our fallen,” the major said. “We also embrace the feelings of honor, patriotism and pride. From the first shots of the Revolutionary War, to the forces we have deployed around the world today, America has been blessed to have citizens who will serve, fight and sometimes die for this country.
“It’s not for money; it’s not for the medals that such people step forth. It’s patriotism, love for this country and love for the values on which it was founded — life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
Before completing her tribute to the nation’s fallen, Hadley gave a brief tribute to women in the military. She pointed out that 350 women served with U.S. military units during World War II, while 74,000 served as either Army or Navy nurses.
“Now there are more than 195,000 women enlisted in armed forces, with over 65,000 additional women serving in the officers corps,” she said. “I’m proud to be a part of that 65,000.”
She then returned to the central theme.
“Today we pay tribute to those heroic patriots who made that ultimate sacrifice, who bravely rose up and fought for something greater than themselves, protecting a home they never returned to,” she said. “They were the best and noblest of all. We honor their service; we mourn their loss and we remember the families they ultimately left behind.”
She then brought the program full circle, echoing the VFW commander’s urging to teach future generations the true meaning of Memorial Day.
“In an effort to repay a debt that can never truly be repaid, we must honor the legacy of our nation’s fallen by educating all who believe in Memorial Day, that it’s not just another holiday,” said Hadley, whose 15-year-old daughter was in the crowd. “We must pass that knowledge along to the next generation to assure that the next generation knows the true cost of their freedom.”
Then came the most solemn portions of the annual observance. After Gates and Elder placed a wreath at the base of the monument, a team of readers called out the name of each local man and woman who died in service to the country, with the rich peal of a bell ringing across the landscape at the end of each reading.
A fire team then provided a traditional military salute, Mike Hanks blew Taps, and Glenn Wardrop, chaplain of the local VFW post who had delivered the invocation, added the benediction.
VFW Post 7016 member Lloyd Albritton, who participated in the roll call, said that all in all, the ceremony was another good one.
“We always have good support in Atmore; we always have a pretty good turnout,” Albritton noted. “These are good days for veterans. The Vietnam era was not a good time for veterans, but everything is pro-veteran now, which is a good thing.”

Above, on the program, VFW Commander Billy Gates, standing; seated, from left, Maj. Valisa Hadley, VFW Chaplain Glenn Wardrop, Mayor Jim Staff, Legion Commander Billy Elder. Below, the fire team, from left, Steve Reynolds, Richard Keesler, Tony Gibbs and Jeff White.