|Korean, Vietnam veterans honored at Heritage Park|
|The Press - Features|
|Written by Kelley Lannigan|
|Thursday, 26 May 2011 10:01|
Before he gave the invocation to begin an observance honoring some very special veterans at Heritage Park May 14, County Commissioner Jimmy Anderson had these words for the crowd.
“We don’t do enough to thank our veterans, especially those who served in Korea and Vietnam,” he said. “We couldn’t do what we’re here doing today if not for the sacrifices they have made.”
The special day to honor veterans of the Korean and Vietnam wars was organized by Jessie Joyce of Cuyler.
“I went with members of the COA (Council on Aging) last August to honor a young soldier, Tyler Southern, who was coming home to Jacksonville after losing both legs and an arm while fighting for the US in Afghanistan,” she said. “People lined the streets and held American flags. I learned that Vietnam vets always showed up for such events and I started thinking ‘why don’t we do something like this in Macclenny to honor them?’”
She proposed the idea to Sheriff Joey Dobson and Mike Griffis, general manager of NEFCOM, last October when she saw them at the Baker County Fair. Both were interested in supporting such an event and sent her to speak with Herbert Hicks, then director of the Veteran’s Affairs office in Macclenny.
As the event took shape, she spoke with Vietnam vets to get their input. From them she learned that veterans of the Korean War were grossly overlooked for their past service and they suggested she expand the scope of the event to honor both groups.
That’s just what happened.The ceremony began with members of the Baker County High School Junior AFROTC presenting the colors.
Mr. Anderson then asked for a moment of silence to honor all American veterans killed in the line of duty. He prayed a blessing over the veterans who were present and for the success of the day’s event.
The program’s master of ceremonies was radio personality Ray Junior whose talk show “The Ray Junior Show” broadcasts from Orlando and St. Augustine.
“Wow!” he exclaimed after the prayer concluded. “A commissioner who will pray and mention the name of Jesus — I think I’m living in the wrong town.”
At this the crowd clapped and cheered.
Rev. Walter Hammon of Lake City, a veteran of the Korean War, expressed his humility at being in the presence of other veterans who served and the significance, which he believes is often lost on many people, of the service they performed keeping the United States safe and free from oppression.
“I think we are growing away from the true meaning of Memorial Day and the dear price of the freedom we enjoy,” he said.
He then referred to the two million military personnel who were active in the Korean “theatre.”
He cited 54,000 Americans dying in the conflict, starting in 1950 until the cease fire three years later. According to him, 7,140 were taken prisoner and 4,418 ultimately rescued and repatriated. Over 2,700 died in captivity.
“I served proudly with these brave men and women,” he said. “I thank God for the providence that I returned safely.”
City commissioner and retired Army 1st Sgt. Vernon Bennett, a veteran of the Korean War and two tours in Vietnam, also addressed the crowd.
Clad in full dress uniform, he spoke frankly and with authority about his war experiences.
“Korea at that time was a terrible place. It’s the coldest place on the earth,” he declared. “I’d rather have been in Vietnam any day than Korea. The south Koreans, they froze to death, starved to death while fighting the North Koreans and the Chinese. They suffered immensely.”
He spoke of the challenges of Vietnam, describing situation after situation in which he should have died, but survived.
Unlike many first sergeants who commanded platoons but did not go out to the front lines, he often went out in the field with his men.
During one skirmish, in a rice paddy at night, he used a radio and a hand-held strobe light to guide in a rescue helicopter to transport three dead soldiers and one wounded, to safety.
For that he received a Silver Star, the military’s third highest honor for bravery in the line of duty.
Mr. Bennett doesn’t hesitate to point out that Korean and Vietnam veterans don’t get enough recognition or the respect they truly deserve. And he emphasized what people should do when they encounter a pilot.
“When you see a military pilot, any military pilot, you should show them respect,” he said reflecting on the rescue effort.
After the ceremony, which included dedication of a granite memorial donated by Todd Ferreira, Mr. Bennett shared his collection of memorabilia, including photos and newspapers from his tours of duty.
He says he will always be a soldier, although today he is on the front lines of a different battle, one with a spiritual component.
“I was a soldier,” he said. “I am a soldier. I will always be a soldier. Today I fight for my Lord Jesus Christ.”
|Last Updated on Friday, 27 May 2011 09:20|