Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 31, 2006
On a sweltering Monday morning they came to Confederate Park in Greenville.
A few, like Ron Roberts of McKenzie, a veteran of WW II and career Army, proudly wore their military uniforms.
“My dad wore his uniform for special holidays for as long as he was able,” Roberts said as he displayed two dog tags – his own and his father's tag from WW I.
Others from across the county wore T-shirts emblazoned with their branch of service, or caps proclaiming “Proud to be a Veteran.”
On Monday, Memorial Day, the city and county had the opportunity to honor the men and women from the area who had served their country in past and present wars and conflicts.
The Greenville Lions played host to the celebration.
In spite of the intense heat and humidity, organizers estimate over 250 people turned out to show their patriotic spirit.
The event began at 10 a.m. with live music performed by Blu Braden, Robert Layton and the Music Makers, and ended with a picnic lunch of hot dogs and hamburgers served by Lions Club volunteers.
A ceremony at noon honored both the living and the dead.
In a midday flyover, Travis Capps piloted a vintage Navy SNJ trainer owned by Dr. Woody Bartlett, as the flag in front of City Hall was raised to full mast.
During the program, special emphasis was given to those who served in Korea.
Lion Herbert Morton shared the stories of Butler County's two casualties of the Korean Conflict, Staff Sergeant James Bernard Brown, U.S. Army and Capt. Wallace N. Wood, USMC.
“Bernard Brown was from Chapman; his older brother J.W. had served in World War II. Bernard was killed on May 14, 1952 when his tent mate's rifle went off accidentally while he was cleaning it…Bernard is buried beside his parents here on the east end of Magnolia Cemetery,” Morton said.
Wood, a 1941 graduate of Greenville High School, was a naval aviator who was shot down over North Korea on June 7, 1952.
“Sadly, his remains have never been returned to his family…there is a very nice memorial to him at Liberty Methodist Church west of Greenville,” Morton said.
Thurston Mosley of the Butler County Chapter of the Disabled American Veterans shared the symbolic ceremony of the missing guest at the table, honoring those in the military classified as missing in action.
“The chair is empty; they cannot be here.
Surely, they have not forsaken you; do not forget them,” Mosley admonished the audience, as
Andrew Brooks prepared to perform “Taps.”
Colonel Eric Cates shared the story of the two local units, the 926th Engineering Unit and “A” Battery, 1st Battalion, 117th Field Artillery, that served their country during the Korean Conflict.
“Butler County's participation in that war was significantly greater than you might think,” Cates said.
“Almost all the boys in the senior class at Greenville High School were in the National Guard and went active duty…a number stayed in the military, several achieving high NCO and officer rank.”
While Cates referred to these men as “patriots,” there was one man in attendance he called “a patriot and a true local hero.”
“Tech Sergeant Henry Davis was the first person to be drafted into WW II from Butler County…he was awarded both the Bronze and Silver Star and was part of Patton's Third Army at the Battle of the Bulge.”
After WW II, Davis joined the National Guard on his return to Butler County, returning to active duty in 1951.
“Few know about the awards he received but they know about it today,” Cates said as he presented Davis with a plaque.
Mayor Emeritus of Montgomery, Emory Folmar, himself a decorated Korean veteran, shared an impassioned speech.
“The price of freedom is blood; we've paid it over and over again and again…why? Because that is what we do.”
A company commander in combat with the 2nd Infantry Division in Korea, Folmar was awarded the Silver Star, Bronze Star, Purple Heart, Combat Infantry Badge, Parachutist's Badge, Korean Campaign with Three Stars and the Croix de Guerre with Bronze Palm.
He recalled two years of “mean, brutal, closed-in fighting,” including a raid on a Chinese command post.
“Getting out was hell because we had sure made them mad,” the veteran recalled.
Folmar said there were a “lot of good people who died, a lot who fought and bled – I'm proud to be one of them. I wish all the veterans the very best on this day.”
After the blessing of the meal, all veterans were invited to take a “Walk of Honor” down a flag-lined walkway, as their family, friends and neighbors gathered around to applaud those who had served.
“This was a truly nice service…very touching,” Frances Frakes of Greenville, wife of a WW II veteran, said.
“I loved the veterans' walk. It's so rare to get them all together like this and be able to say, ‘thank you' to them,” Jan Newton of Greenville said.
For Roberts, it was like a “thank you” to his entire family.
“Between my dad and I and my brothers and sons, we have about 200 years of military service,” the veteran said with pride.