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Indoor Memorial Day observance focuses on future fighters

Billy Gates, Lloyd Albritton, Chaplain Keith Bernarducci, Al Sosa

News Staff Writer

Although homage was paid to those who have fought and died in the nation’s military conflicts, Atmore’s Memorial Day observance was a little different this year.
The event was held Monday (May 27) inside Atmore City Hall Auditorium, a move that was necessitated by a storm-filled weather forecast and one that effectively altered the schedule of activities to a slight degree.
“We didn’t know what the weather was going to be at this point in time, nor what was going to be happening,” Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 7016 Commander Billy Gates explained of the relocation. “Rather than getting the sound equipment wet, the team opted to move inside to be on the safe side, so here we are.”
The annual observance, a joint effort of Post 7016 and American Legion Post 90, featured a strong, heartfelt version of the National Anthem sung by Lana Langford and a recital of the Pledge of Allegiance to the U.S. flag by the 50-plus in attendance.
The crowd included Atmore Mayor Jim Staff, who delivered a brief welcome, City Councilwoman Eunice Johnson, County Commissioner Brandon Smith, VFW District 8 Commander Al Sosa, Escambia County Veterans Services Officer Gene Moore and State Senator Greg Albritton.
Post 7016 Chaplain Keith Bernarducci delivered the invocation and benediction for the somber remembrance, which included presentation and explanation of the POW/MIA Table, a presentation of the wreath that is usually placed at the city’s veterans monument but did not include the firing team that usually fires a 9-shot volley near the end of the program.
“The wreath is placed,” said Gates, pointing to the red, white and blue arrangement on the stage behind him. “We’re inside, so the rifle team will not happen.”
Sosa and Post 90 Commander Billy Elder, both of whom come from families with lengthy military ties (including Elder’s father and uncle and Sosa’s grandfather, who served in the Mexican Army, and several other relatives who are U.S. military veterans) also spoke briefly on Monday before the keynote speaker, Lloyd Albritton took the podium. Albritton’s speech is published on Page 4A of today’s edition.
Prior to delivering his remarks, though, he talked about the future of the nation’s defense forces, calling his grandsons — Dallas Kelson and Cameron Reynolds, both teenagers — to the front of the room as he made his point.
“We have a lot of gray-headed old men here; we have fought the wars of the past,” he said, waving to the two adolescents. “Right here, this is who’s going to fight the wars of the future. Keep those young faces in mind.”
Gates had earlier mentioned the presence of the keynote speaker’s grandsons, his own grandson, William Gates, and David and John Albritton, the state senator’s grandsons.
“We wanted this to be a learning experience,” he said. “I see a lot of veterans here and a lot of younger folks here, so that’s good,” he said.
One of the program’s most emotional moments came when local businessmen and brothers David and Jerry Gehman played version of “Taps” that included a call-and-response version that flowed into identical notes from each bugle. Several veterans were seen wiping their eyes during the musical tribute to the fallen.
Another emotional moment occurred when the names were read of all 115 Atmore-area veterans who were killed in action during the nation’s wars and whose names are on the city’s monument to veterans. The readings were punctuated by a single toll of a bell at the end of each grouping.
After a drawing was held and someone claimed a handmade patriotic Afghan created by Cindy Freeman, Bernarducci delivered the benediction and Gates delivered a brief statement of closing.
“That concludes our program,” said the VFW post commander, who is not impressed by the commercial activity centered around the holiday. “Now you can go buy your mattress or new car or whatever else everybody uses Memorial Day for. But never forget.”

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