American Legion Post 558 does it up right … for veterans, community
Published 12:15 pm Wednesday, November 16, 2016
By JONI WOOLF
AMERICUS — Hundreds of local citizens gathered on a brilliant November morning to honor America’s veterans, and especially those who came from among the local community. In a stirring ceremony on the grounds of Sumter County Courthouse, a huge crowd paid honor to those who had given their all and were no longer here. And loud cheers went up for those who served and still walk among us.
Beginning with a warm welcome by Legionnaire and Past Commander of Post 558, Willie Young, speakers lined up to praise the fallen and to welcome those veterans and their loved ones who had come out to bear witness to the occasion. After an opening invocation by Chaplain Johnnie Pool, who also led the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag, state Rep. Mike Cheokas, R-Americus, spoke, saying that because of the men and women who sacrificed all for the preservation of freedom, America is a “beacon of hope, a land of opportunity.” Cheokas was followed by Sumter County Commission chairman, Randy Howard and Americus City Council member Nelson Brown, both of whom praised the veterans of all wars, thanking them for their service.
In the shadow of the courthouse sat the oldest World War II veteran in Sumter County, 95-year-old Earl McGrother, who served with the U.S. Army’s 86th Infantry Division. Now confined to a wheelchair, McGrother spoke at length to a number of people who paused to thank him for his service, and received a loud round of applause when his name was announced from the podium.
Willie Young introduced the speaker for the celebration, Chief Deputy Col. Eric Bryant of the Sumter County Sheriff’s Office. A Marine veteran who trained at Parris Island, South Carolina, Bryant told the story of how he got there: he was a young man who knew it was either college or the military — “I knew I wasn’t college material!” It was during that training, he said, that he began to understand the importance of the armed forces. “The men and women who sign up for the armed forces start out one way — and end up another way,” he said. And because of their sacrifices, he continued, we are a better nation. We celebrate the men and women who put on the uniform and serve our country so, “Veterans Day is not just a day off. It is a day to recognize those who served our nation and allow us to enjoy the freedoms we sometimes take for granted.”
A closing prayer by Chaplain Pool officially ended the program at the courthouse. But the Veterans Day observance was just beginning. High school marching bands, veterans’ groups, school children supporting veterans, a motorcycle contingent, fire trucks, Mrs. USA coming out the top of a Jeep, and leading the way, a truck bearing the Grand Marshal of the Parade, Bill McGowan, pulled out onto Lamar Street as horns blared along with trumpets. For just a little while, Americus paused. Lining the sidewalks were citizens giving thanks for those who paid the ultimate price for our country’s freedom. And a salute to those veterans who are still here to receive words of gratitude. It was a parade that reflected the best of who we are: veterans, students, parents, business men and women, public servants and interested onlookers: citizens all.