Veterans celebrate with festive luncheon at American Legion Post 558
Published 12:30 pm Wednesday, November 16, 2016
By JONI WOOLF
AMERICUS — After a morning’s observance of Veterans Day at the Sumter County Courthouse, followed by a boisterous, colorful parade in downtown Americus, the celebration continued for many with a festive luncheon at American Legion Post 558.
Following a prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance to the American flag, led by Minister Johnnie Pool, and other welcomes, a brief but solemn moment of memorial was led by Calvin Mansfield. Mansfield lit a single candle, signifying all who had served in defense of their nation, and after a pause, he extinguished the candle, remembering all who died in that service. It was a poignant expression of sorrow.
Barbara Pool then recognized all the guests, and Tony Cooper followed with a helpful explanation of what the occasion signified — why they had all gathered. Then, without announcing what the “song” would be, Leonard Tyson began singing in a deep, bass voice, and the audience suddenly realized it was the national anthem — “The Star Spangled Banner.” Everyone rose in homage to their country, and to those who have served and continue to serve in its defense.
After a blessing by Past Commander Plezy Nelson, Linda Coley introduced the speaker for the occasion, her husband, Elder Michael Coley, himself a Navy veteran. He noted that lunch was scheduled to come before his speech, but he asked that it be reversed. So the crowd, already in a celebratory mood, enjoyed a Thanksgiving-style luncheon, which was followed by Coley’s remarks.
“We will never forget.” Coley said this would be the theme of his talk, reminding the crowd again and again, that veterans should never be forgotten, that the memories of citizens should always include those who have served, who have given the last full measure for their country. “We stand in the midst of patriarchs,” he said, and yet, so often veterans are forgotten, and those left behind are left without comfort. Coley asked all the veterans who were in attendance to stand so that the audience could thank them; there was a rousing moment of applause. Then he asked the families of those veterans to stand, realizing that families also pay a price when a loved one goes to serve his or her country. And he quoted the oath that all take who serve this country in the branches of the military: “I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office which I am about to enter.” It is a sobering statement.
“We will never forget,” he continued. “From the soldiers at Valley Forge to the Tuskegee Airmen, from Korea and Vietnam to Iraq …” he went on. “We honor them all. And we will never forget.”
It was a moving speech and he received sustained applause when it was over.
Coley’s talk was followed by a presentation of certificates to veterans by Melissa Ingle from the Veterans Administration. Ingle was assisted in the presentation by Bill McGowan, Grand Marshal of the morning parade, and recently elected state representative for District 138. She was also assisted by the current Mrs. U.S.A., the current Mrs. Georgia, and the current Americus-Sumter High School Homecoming Queen.
Concluding remarks were made by the Post 558 Commander Thomas Moore, and departing visitors gathered around the veterans, one more time, to say a word of thanks, and let them know they would never be forgotten.