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Veterans program honors locals’ valiant efforts to preserve freedom

A nearly packed Andalusia High School auditorium was the site of the first-ever Celebration of Heroes: A Salute to Covington County Veterans on Sunday afternoon.

Locals attending were entertained by the Andalusia High School Band who played tunes from the early 20th century.

A video that featured a few clips of local World War II veterans played after that.

Gov. Kay Ivey sent a video message applauding the day.

Covington Veterans Foundation also presented a huge American flag to Andalusia High School.

The Andy Sisters – Katie King, Hannah Cross and Olivia Ennis, clad in military attire, sang The National Anthem, “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,” and “White Cliffs of Dover.”

Three Notch Ramblers – Jeff Sellers, Jacob Sellers, Richard Moore, Phillip McClung, Jeremy Hunt and Scott Rogers also performed “This Land is Your Land,” “Battle of New Orleans” and “Sinking of The Reuben James.”

The Andalusia Male Chorus featured Jerry Andrews, Billy Beech, Chantz Birch, John Carpenter, Glenn Cook, Dwight Crigger, Ethan Dorsey, Kim Dyess, Waverly Flowers, Charles Hunter, Jim Krudop, Morgan Moore, Willie Thomas, Casey Thompson, Jimmy Wilson and William Worley. The chorus performed “Armed Forces Medley,” in which local veterans and current members of the U.S. Military were recognized. The chorus also sang “Battle Hymn of Republic” and “God Bless America.”

Gold Star Families – the families of Forrest Sibley, John Wesley Hutto and Todd Hattaway – were recognized.

Col. Ben Bowden and John Vick of the Veterans Foundation honored John Givhan, Kenneth Johnson and William Merrill for their roles in honoring and helping veterans in Covington County.

Givhan was recognized for his unmatched and tireless efforts to help veterans.

Johnson, who was recognized posthumously, helped organized the veterans park.

Merrill constructed the obelisk on the veteran’s monument.

Lt. Col. Jim Lawrence, a native of Opp, was the keynote speaker.

Lawrence’s speech showed that Covington County has been a long-time supplier of some of the best military service members in the country throughout time.

“Veterans have a rich heritage,” he said. “They do things most cannot and will not do.”

Lawrence spoke of locals being in the Rainbow Division in World War I with then-Gen. Douglas MacArthur.

It was of those men in the 167th Alabama that MacArthur would say, “Its gallantry I do not believe has been surpassed in military history.”

In World War II, men like Claude Pike, LaFelt Brannon, Thomas Lloyd Rodgers and Thomas Dwight Teel played vital roles in D-Day.

Rodgers was one of 24 paratroopers who dropped behind German lines prior to the invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944. He killed 40 German soldiers before his death and received the Distinguished Service Cross. He later died in action.

From Pleasant Home, James Underwood Cross was the Air Force One Pilot for President Lyndon B. Johnson.

Charles Saunders of the 795th MP Battalion, and attached to the 4th Infantry Division in WWII. He was one of 25 elite MPs to escort French General Charles de Gaulle on his entry into Paris after the city was liberated, and later guarded Nazis Herman Goering, Rudolph Hess, Albert Speer and others at the Nuremberg Tribunals.

Ben Crum Foshee was one of the Flying Tigers who was sent to defend China from a Japanese invasion.

He made the ultimate sacrifice on May 4, 1942.

World War II veteran Eland Anthony was described as having no fear, but plenty of courage.

Anthony earned the Silver Star, which is the U.S.’s third highest honor. He was a platoon leader and charged a German machine gunner, which in turned saved multiple lives.

During his tenure, he also liberate Dachau, a concentration camp.

Florala’s Rodney J. Evans, who gave his life on July 18, 1969 during Vietnam in Tay Ninh Providence while laying down his life for his fellow soldiers by concealing a land mine with his body.

For that heroic action, he received the Medal of Honor.

Lawrence spoke of men like Marlin Hamilton, who was a prisoner of war at Stalag I. He was making a flight from Italy to Munich and was shot down over Austria.

Foyl Hudgens was also a POW, but showed courage as he stole horses, a car until it ran out of gas and hitchhiked his way to freedom.

Lawrence didn’t forget the heroines – Felma Scrimshire, Martha Dixon, Wanda Bryant and Wilma Moore.

Lawrence mentioned countless others in his speak who served their country valiantly living out MacArthur’s “Duty, Honor and Country.”

Each of the local veterans believing in President John F. Kennedy’s “Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.”

Sunday’s celebration was the kick-off of two weeks of veterans celebrations.

An exhibit honoring veterans is set-up at Andalusia City Hall.