It was a Veterans Day weekend like few others, marked by five separate and distinct ceremonies that honored, from one end of the county to the other, those in Franklin County who have served the nation.
Beginning on Friday morning with the service held annually at the First Baptist Christian School, the weekend continued with Saturday morning services in Lanark Village, on St. George Island and at the Veterans Memorial Plaza in Apalachicola.
On Monday morning, students from the Apalachicola Bay Charter School and Franklin County Schools combined as they do each year to host vets from around the county at an enormous celebration in the high school gym.
First Baptist stresses veterans’ faithfulness
The First Baptist Christian School Friday morning paid tribute to the faith and obedience shown by veterans, whose soldierly traits underscore the duties of all Christians to serve God’s word.
“Before you have a veteran, you have to have a soldier. You never become veteran (from that service),” said Pastor Charles Morris, himself a 14-year veteran of the Air Force, with service in Germany, Spain, the Philippines and elsewhere.
“There is no time in the Lord’s army you become a veteran,” he said, echoing the words of a song sung earlier by the school’s kindergartners. “Keep the main thing the main thing. God is the main thing.”
Morris likened the facts of life in the military, that a solder is, in fact, the property of the U.S. government, and is steadfastly familiar with the rules of service, including the voice of his commanding officers, with the facts of spiritual life, and the need to be obedient to the still, small voice of God.
“If we don’t know the Father’s voice, we’ll be intimidated,” he said, noting that a whole generation has come along that defines itself by earnings and a job, rather than by a commitment to service and unity.
“They no longer see it as fighting for our nation, fighting for our freedom,” Morris said. “Peace is better than war, but justice is more important than peace. When you’re in combat, you can still know peace.
The service was marked by songs and prayers from students from all 12 grades, led by School director Carline Kembro, and students Lydia Strickland, Jocelyn Medley, Justin Shuman, Caden Allen, Josh Ledezma and Ethan Kembro.
The service closed with a folding of the flag by Louis Van Vleet, whose older brother was killed while serving in the Pacific during World War II, and two other members of the “greatest Generation,” WWII vets Oscar Medley and Red Sizemore, now 93.
The dozen or so veterans in attendance each came forward to be recognized by name, and to receive gifts from students as part of the service.
Lanark remembers those who have passed
About 40 people gathered Saturday morning to observe Veterans Day at Camp Gordon Johnston American Legion Post 82 in Lanark Village.
The service was perhaps especially moving there as Legionnaires recalled members who have recently passed including Mary Britz, Curley Messer and Joseph “Snooky” Barber, all World War II vets who resided on the county’s east end.
Cheryl Britz Cipponeri of Lanark commented on how much she missed her mother, and how much she felt a part of the veteran army nurse who passed away at 95 earlier this year.
Britz’s great-grandson Conner Carpenter, 11, of Crawfordville, was the youngest person in attendance.“I think it’s a good way to celebrate,” he said.
Greg Kristofferson, adjutant for the Legion post, led a flagraising ceremony followed by a prayer in which Chaplain Barbara Cook assured veterans they are loved.
Everyone adjourned inside to hear a speech by Post Commander Bert Worthy after which Kristofferson told in his remarks of how military service to our country does not end on discharge.
He spoke in detail of five American veteran heroes who risked their lives to help others during the recent Las Vegas massacre: former Marine and Iraq vet Taylor Winston, who helped throw the wounded over a barrier fence and then stole a truck to rush victims; Army veteran Colin Donahue, an Iraq vet, who helped usher others to safety; Marine vet Scott Yarmer, who waited for a break in the shooting and moved others to safety; Iraq and Afghanistan Army vet John Tampien, who knew to look for shelter for his wife and friends; and former Army Ranger Robert Ledbetter, who used a passerby’s flannel shirt as a tourniquet and gave others first aid.
“From Bunker Hill to Baghdad, there has always been a select group of Americans willing to fight and possibly die for a cause greater than their self-preservation,” he said. “And while we set aside Nov. 11 as a special day to honor and remember our veterans, we should continuously endeavor to serve our veterans as well as they have served our nation.”
Also on Saturday, more than 100 people, veterans and their families, gathered on St. George Island for an inaugural Veterans Day service at the Cape St. George Lighthouse. Keynotes speaker retired Navy Rear Adm. John Stewart and retired Army Maj. Gen. James E. Donald gave moving speeches.
Remembrance service focuses on grief
Veterans Memorial Plaza in Apalachicola, at the foot of the Three Servicemen Statue Detail, played host Saturday morning to a well-attended Service of Remembrance conducted by Big Bend Hospice.
Moderated by Hospice Chaplain Ed Lyon, with guitar accompaniment throughout by music therapist Ashley Hall, the service opened with a Veterans Day focus that led into a complementary stress on grief for all those who have lost loved ones.
After remarks from former County Commissioner Jimmy Mosconis and prayers from pastors Bill Cook and Scotty Lolley, the audience heard from Jack Pittman, a 26-year Army veteran, who talked of the need to work towards getting veterans to share their stories, however difficult it may be.
“Many have dementia, or can’t remember or can’t talk,” he said. “Sadly there are times when families know nothing about their service.
“All the dark secrets are about fear,” he said, quoting Robert Olen Butler. “Real heroes are veterans. To me, every day is veterans day.”
Each of the more than two dozen vets in the audience were given an opportunity to share their names and their years of service, before receiving a pin from one of the members of the hospital staff and volunteers.
With the symbolic lighting of candles on the blustery morning, and the placing of shells in a wooden boat, in remembrance of a loved one, the service turned to the issue of grief.
“Grief that we feel reminds us of what we have had,” said Lolley. “It is not weak to feel the sadness and emptiness. Be gentle with yourself as you go through grief, which is a natural response to loss.”
Offering words of hope was retired Army Lt. Col James Kennedy from Port St. Joe, who told of how five years in the Navy, followed by a brief stint at the paper mill, led to his becoming an Army helicopter pilot with the 82nd Airborne during the Vietnam War.
“We were doing our best to serve our nation,” he said. “To all my in-country brothers and sisters, I say welcome home. You served proudly during a difficult time.”
He recalled the stories of men lost in his unit, and the pain that stems from that.
“I know what grief is,” Kennedy said. “You choose to remember the good things about everyone who has gone before us. You choose joy.”
He closed by reminding the audience that “liberty doesn’t come cheap, folks. In today’s society, we need to remember that.
“Ordinary people like you and I, we answered the call,” he said to his fellow veterans, including those who served in peacetime. “You are a brother veterans, regardless of when you served. Hold your head up and remember you served.
“Before you lay down your head tonight,” he said to the audience. “I would encourage you to thank God Almighty for the blessings you have.”
Huge turnout for school’s assembly
The presentation of a handmade quilt, to 96-year-old Sam Esposito, of Carrabelle, was a highlight of Monday morning’s school assemble. The gorgeous red, white and blue quilt, created by Othelia Clark, was donated by she and husband Mikel, and he received it graciously, as well as a fruit basket.
Esposito, sporting a cap that read “World War II Veteran – Served with Pride,” lives with his daughter Debbie Sterbling, and her husband Mark. After his service as an engineer in Germany, helping build bridges at the Battle of the Bulge, Esposito worked for years as a factory worker for General Electric in Erie, Pennsylvania.
The school assembly featured students from both the ABC School and the Franklin County School, and opened with a flag folding by the Tyndall Honor Guard,
Students Ethan Moses, Beyla Walker, Jesse Ray, Sawyer Stultz and Madison Burt had speaking roles in the assembly, while Drew Robinson and Sara Gibbs both sang, accompanied by Fisher Edwards on guitar.
The band played a wonderful version of the Battle Hymn of the Republic, and the ABC Choir delighted the audience with their singing.
With the service banners carried by members of the Seahawk football team, the veterans stood when their branch was introduced, as the band played their service hymns.
There was a slideshow honoring local graduates who have served, or are serving in the military, with a special tribute to Vietnam vet John Newell. The cheerleaders performed a spectacular number celebrating freedom, and the audie and visuals went off like clockwork.
The service closed with remarks from Principal Jill Rudd, and Supervisor of Elections Heather Riley.
Afterwards Debra Fletcher’s culinary class served up a lunch of Boston Butt pulled pork sandwiches, white beans and sausage and green beans and new potatoes, topped off with desserts prepared by the ABC teachers and staff. Centennial Bank funded the meal with a $500 donation.