From the youngest members of the nation’s military now patrolling the Persian Gulf, to the most venerable members of the Greatest Generation who freed Europe in World II, Franklin County marked Veteran’s Day with a resounding salute to America’s nearly 25 million living, wounded and handicapped veterans.
It began Friday evening at the Mikel Clark Sports Complex in Eastpoint, as three recent graduates of Franklin County High School – the Navy’s Jacob Lee, Class of 2009, and Chris Chumney, Class of 2010, and the Army’s Chance Buffkin, Class of 2012 – led the Seahawks with flag held high as they charged onto to the field.
It concluded on a solemn note Monday morning, as the First Baptist Christian School held its annual program to honor all who served.
Guest speaker for the service was Army Sgt. 1st Class Paul Plazarin, of Blountstown, son of the church’s pastor, Rev. Bill Plazarin, who introduced his son, a career military man born nearly 43 years ago on Dec. 22, 1969.
“His mother said he was brought home in a Christmas stocking as a Christmas present,” said Bill Plazarin.
The Plazarins’ three sons have all served, with Paul going on 19 years in the Army, including two overseas tours, one for the Gulf invasion, and the second for 14 months in Kuwait.
“We’re proud to say he came back safe and whole,” said his father. “Not all did.”
In his remarks, the younger Plazarin, dressed in Army camouflage uniform, focused his remarks as a pointed reminder of the meaning of the day.
“Why is it we put so much emphasis on Veterans Day? Why do we care? Why should we care?” he asked. “The answer is found in a simple phrase ‘All gave some, and some gave all.’ That phrase sums up why we hold Veterans Day so dear.
“For 230 years, Americans have kept the wolf at bay and our freedoms safe,” Paul Plazarin said. “In an unstable world, our military has been called to keep the terrorist and tyrants at bay. We take the fight to the enemy. Heroes fight and die so we can sit in our homes with our families and enjoy a normal life.”
To elaborate on his point, Plazarin focused on two true-life stories, one he read about while doing research on the Internet and the other which he knew of first-hand.
He told of a Vietnam-era story he read about by Vietnam veteran Colby Dunn concerning a Capt. Little, a physician who, despite suffering battle wounds, tended to men in his unit, and saved many of their lives.
“Why would a combat veteran look at this man as a hero?” asked Paul Plazarin. “He was witnessing the true meaning of what we know as Veterans Day.”
The second story took place nine years ago in Baghdad, just after its liberation by American troops, when an Iraqi insurgent approached two soldiers and shot them, seriously wounding each of them, protected only by flak jackets.
One of them, a National Guardsman named Willie, was fortunate to have his life spared, when the bullet failed to pierce the two layers of Kevlar in the jacket.
“That is how prayer works,” said Paul Plazarin. “The bullet did not go through that jacket, but he had a bruise over his heart.
“He is still in the National Guard and he is still a good friend of mine,” he said.
“I wanted to put names and events in your heart,” Plazarin said. “These two people answered the call to stand up and fight, no matter the hardships they face. We have that freedom, freedom of mind, freedom of sprit, and freedom and the right to pursue happiness (because of veterans’) giving of themselves to preserve and protect all of us.
“We need to be reminded, to keep things fresh in our mind,” he said. “Sometimes we can forget where we come from and who gave us these rights. We need to be reminded we owe a debt that cannot be repaid.
“We can never forget. That’s what we do, we never forget,” said Plazarin.
The active duty soldier opened his remarks by offering a belated thank-you to those members of the local community who had, in 2003, sent him a box full of Bibles to distribute to his fellow service men and women on their overseas deployment.
“The community support is awesome,” he said. “That makes me proud, to stand up tall in this uniform. It’s a humbling experience.”
Paul Plazarin closed by challenging those who packed the church sanctuary “to make a difference in your own lives,” including taking the time and making the effort to show respect and honor for the nation’s military and its veterans.
“Not everybody addresses these things as they should,” he said. “What’s going through their minds as the National Anthem is being played? Maybe Dr. Little will come to your mind, or Willie. It’s a simple act of respect we can do, to show respect and to pay honor.
“It boils down to living our lives of selfless service of country so we can take time to serve each other,” said Paul Plazarin. “It’s not abort the politics, by no means. It’s not about how much you have or how much land you own. It’s about how you live your life as an American.
“Thank God for your salvation and thank a veteran for your freedom,” he said in closing.
Monday’s service was hosted by Carline Kembro, the school’s director, and opened with a processional of flags by the school’s juniors and seniors as they lead in the student body.
Students as young as the kindergartners took turns offering the singing of patriotic songs, as well as the reading of poems, including an original acrostic poem written by the third and fourth graders.
The program closed with a hushed reading of the names of the county’s war dead, dating back to World War I. Senior Sarah Strickland read the names, as senior Anna Harris stood in front, holding a basket in which her fellow students came forward to plant a small flag reading “God bless America” with each name.
The service closed with the folding of the flag, as Bill Plazarin narrated while the duty was performed by World War II vets Oscar Medley and Red Sizemore, who were joined by Louis Van Vleet, in honor of his older brother, who died in the Pacific near the end of the War.
The students and congregation closed with the singing of “God bless America.”