Putnam County residents gathered Memorial Day at the Veterans Wall of Honor Park to commemorate veterans with reverent words from speakers, remembering the names of local Blue Star Warriors and a 21-gun salute.
The ceremony opened with an invocation from VFW and American Legion member Gene Roberts, followed by Juanita Crawford’s moving performance of the National Anthem.
Before starting his speech, Commissioner Billy Webster, an Air Force veteran himself, went off-script to thank those involved with creating the Veterans Wall of Honor Park.
“It’s not often people come to the board of commissioners and say, ‘we would like to have some of your prime real estate, and this is what we’re going to do with it,’” Webster said. “We took them on their faith, and by gosh they did it. I have never been prouder to have put my name on a particular vote.”
In Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg address, he honored fallen soldiers by describing them as those who gave “their last full measure of devotion.”
Webster echoed those words and told the story of Maj. Charles Livingston Kelly of Warm Springs.
Kelly enlisted at 15 and fought in World War II, where he was wounded. After that he earned his commission and flight wings, specializing in medivac helicopters.
Twenty years later, Kelly’s helicopter came under heavy enemy fire in Vietnam during a medivac operation.
“The ground commander radioed him to abort, but his reply and last words were: ‘when I have your wounded,’” Webster said.
Kelly was inducted into the Georgia Military Veterans Hall of Fame in April, “a fitting tribute to someone who gave his ‘last full measure of devotion’ to this country,” Webster said.
VFW Post Quartermaster Jim Willis followed by stating the country has soldiers in active duty today, all over the world, still dying.
“Every veteran here has known someone that died,” Willis said. “He didn’t want to die; he went and fought for this country on his own accord. He did what he was asked to do. It may not have been the popular thing, but he did as he was told to do.”
Willis then read the names of all Blue Star Warriors – warriors who died in combat – on the Wall and gave pause before reading the final name to tell a personal story.
The last name read belonged to a young woman, Erica Alecksen, who grew up in Putnam County and had visited Willis in his office before she left for Iraq.
“It was my displeasure, but great honor, as they brought her down that street coming back home,” Willis said. “She was my inspiration for this park because Putnam County did not have a park or any way to celebrate our heroes.”
In closing, Dick Dickens, Commander at VFW Post 6686, gave the benediction, and Eatonton Police performed a 21-gun salute before the ceremony officially ended with TAPPS and a solemn bagpipe instrumental of Amazing Grace.
“Remember today as you go out and have lunch and you’re talking to friends and neighbors,” Willis said. “Remember why you are here today, [and] how you are able to be here today, is because of these great heroes.”
Blue Star Warriors:
D. D. Cantrell; Peter Franklin Baugh; Bennie F. Holloway; Kenneth E. Mattson; Andrew C. Walker; Henry F. Colley; Austin N. Gardner; William F. Robinson; Charlie Frank Carnes; William Pinkerton; Joseph Pinkerton; Ralph A. Cone; William F. Howard; Wesley Lee Farley; Jon L. Boswell; W. Sidney Griffin; Robert W. Reid; David Hitchcock Jr.; David Hitchcock Sr.; Edmund Ilzuck; Robert Reid; Earl Shannon; Forrest L. Bennett; Nathaniel L. Stanford; William Herrings; John Wesley Poole; Roger Davis Ashurst; John Thomas Walls; Clifford Carter; Edgar H. Carter; William Robinson; Vincent Capodanno; Ambrose J. Nowak; Richard H. Paschal; Robert Deloach; Richard Tarply Davis; Maurice Minton; McHunter Tipton “Mac”; Julius Thomas Drake; Donald Smolinski; William Hawkins; John W. McGinnis; James M. Bonner; Paul Wheeler; Walter Hunnicutt; John “Sonny” Howard; Robert Eugene Adams; Roger J. Cooper; Henry Hutchings; Norman Hutchings; Erica Alecksen.