So proudly they serve
Published 12:00 am Thursday, November 16, 2006
The weather proved tempestuous last Saturday morning, as dark clouds mixed with blue skies and blustery winds whipped through Confederate Park.
Those assembled simply hung on to their headgear as they celebrated a special day in American history: Veterans' Day.
Dozens of veterans, their family members and friends assembled for a patriotic celebration. The morning featured music by the popular local bluegrass gospel band, Southern Comfort, along with wartime remembrances and a brief history lesson on the contributions by Butler County's men in uniform.
The customary one minute of silence was observed as the clock struck 11 o'clock, followed by the Rev. Allen Winn's invocation and the presentation of colors by the Greenville High School ROTC Honor Guard.
Remembering those who served
Sabrina Reynolds' rich vibrato rang out the words of the National Anthem, as veterans clasped their caps and hats to chest in honor of the nation they served.
“This is our only national holiday that is celebrated by other countries, our allies in the First World War,” Herbert Morton, former Navy pilot and emcee for the day, told his audience.
“On the 11th day of the 11th month at the 11th hour, a treaty was signed in France in 1918 to end what had been the bloodiest war in our history,” Morton said.
“Some 1,500 years earlier, that same date was set aside as Saint Martin's Day, in honor of the patron saint of soldiers. Many saw it as greatly significant the 11th of November would be set aside to remember and honor those who had served their nation.”
In the aftermath of WW II and the Korean War, the day known as Armistice Day officially became Veterans' Day, Morton said.
“We are giving special emphasis today to our National Guard and their service in the past and present, including Greenville's own Battery B of the 117th Field Artillery.”
One of those “men of Battery B,” Major General Joel W. Norman, was on hand to share memories of the 42 years of service he gave to the Army and Alabama National Guard prior to his retirement.
The Crenshaw County native, who began his Army career as an enlisted man, fondly recalled serving under Col. Eric Cates of Greenville, his first battalion commander in the guard.
Norman went on to hold almost every officer billet in the 117th, including being its 2nd Battalion Commander.
He also served in both Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm, in charge of getting supplies to 5,000 troops in 45 units. The decorated officer retired in 1999 after serving two years as Commander of the 62nd Troop Command, based in Montgomery.
Greenville's citizen soldiers
Norman said Greenville could trace its involvement with the National Guard back to WW I and men who served in field artillery.
“Many great men from Butler
County have served in the guard over the years. William Thigpen, Tommy Langford, Wayne Killough, Billy Atchison, Billy ArmstrongŠI know you all remember Fred and Jack Keeney. It is a great opportunity to be here today to talk to veterans and people who support our National Guard and armed forces,” Norman said.
“We need more people who support our people serving overseas,” he said to applause from the audience.
Norman said he hoped to see in the near future “a good, clear definition of what victory is” in Iraq.
“The soldiers are there to do their job. They are well-trained, good Americans who don't get the press some others do. I am proud of every National Guard member who is serving over there.”
Norman said the outlook shows a continued need for National Guard troops overseas for several years to come.
“It's said they plan to keep the same troop strength level in Iraq through 2010Šthat means we must continue to recruit and retain troops. A lot of soul-searching has to be done. Businesses who hire guardsmen have to take on the burden of potentially losing some of their best employees.”
And Alabama's National Guardsmen make both great workers and excellent soldiers, Norman said.
“These guardsmen go through four to six months of rigorous training just like regular army soldiers. They have PT tests, physicals and go to special schools. I know from personal experience they go on to make great soldiers.”
In harm's way
Nimrod “Rod” Frazer of Montgomery, whose family hailed from Greenville, also shared his admiration for those in Butler County who had put themselves “in harm's way to protect the values we hold so dear.”
The investment banker, who recently completed his late brother William Frazer's book, “Annie Laurie's People: A Hundred Years of Duty and Service in Greenville,
Alabama,” said the area's citizen soldiers were “a special class of American people.”
“To you younger veterans, I want to say you will always be respected and regarded for your time of military service.”
Frazer went on to share details of Greenville's National Guard experiences, beginning with the men, including his father, Will, who trained with the 167th Infantry out of Montgomery prior to WW I.
“They went on to serve in France, to see trench warfare, cold and hardship. Thirteen men went from Greenville. One died and five were wounded. The rest came back physically, if not emotionally, unscathed. It was a terrible war,” Frazer said.
Frazer himself joined the National Guard at 17 (“I needed the money”), serving three years before leaving in the spring of 1950 to attend college.
“The Korean War came in June. I ended up leaving school and going back in. I was sent to a wonderful squadron officers' school. I went to jump school with the 82nd Airborne and went on to serve in Korea,” Frazer said.
He served two tours as a platoon tank leader, participating in the prolonged defense of Hill 182 (Luke's Castle). For his gallantry in action, Frazer was awarded the Silver Star; his combat unit, the 140th Tank Battalion, was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation.
Other than his marriage, the Korean War veteran said, nothing had meant more to him in his life than his time of military service, knowing 󈬥 million Koreans would now be enslaved were it not for us.”
His time as a soldier was a great learning experience, Frazer said.
“At 23 years of age, I had more responsibility than I have ever had in all my years in business. And I've had tremendous business success.”
He reminded those listening, “If we lose our will to put men in harm's way, we will suffer as a nation.”
Following Frazer's remarks, Reynolds encouraged the audience to join her on the chorus of Irving Berlin's beloved classic, “God Bless America.” Rev. Fred Lindstrom of Saint Thomas Episcopal Church closed with a blessing read from the same book of prayer many American troops have used.
“The weather cooperated after all. It was a wonderful event,” Annie Crenshaw of the Butler County Historical and Genealogical Society, the organization sponsoring the event, said.
Following the Veteran's Day celebration, many attendees walked over to First United Methodist
Church, where a barbecue chicken meal was served, courtesy of the FUMC Men's Club, American Legion Post #24 and the BCHGS. Frazer also signed copies of “Annie Laurie's People” following the meal.