Speaker: Veterans aren’t forgotten here

Published 1:00 pm Friday, November 17, 2023

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CW5 (Ret.) Bryant Fontenot said all he ever wanted to be was a soldier.

Emma Beth Ennis, Sylvie King and Sophie Mancil perform at the AJHS Veterans Day program. (SUBMITTED PHOTO)

“I grew up in South Louisiana in a family of desperately meager means,” he said. “When I was a kid, I would pick up soda bottles and sell them. Then I’d take my money to the surplus store and buy a military insignia and get my mama to sew it on my clothes.”

That dream came true for Chief Fontenot, who retired from the U.S. Army in 2021 after 40 years of service. Though retired, he is still training and evaluating Army aviators from a position of federal service in which he is the deputy chief of standards for all of Fort Novosel’s (formerly Ft. Rucker’s) flight training missions.

Last weekend, he was the guest speaker for the 2023 Veterans Day program that immediately followed the annual Veterans Day parade.

When he spoke of the darkness soldiers and former soldiers face in the aftermath of war, he spoke with authority. He took multiple combat assignments in Southwest Asia in the vicinity of Iraq.

“I get so angry when people choose not to stand for the National Anthem,” he said. “Our flag has covered the bodies of my former teammates and America’s sons and daughters. That ought to mean something.”

But dawn does come, he said, just after the darkest part of the night.

He also quoted Rudyard Kipling’s “A Time for Prayer.”

“In times of war and not before,
God and the soldier we adore.
But in times of peace and all things righted,
God is forgotten and the soldier slighted.”

But that’s not true locally, he said, citing the patriotism on display in Andalusia last weekend.

“No veteran within reach of Andalusia and Covington County cannot know his or her worth.”

Today, we’d like to thank the many people who helped make Veterans Day 2023 one of our best celebrations yet.

Chief Fontenot was an excellent guest speaker. City Administrator John Thompson, Mayor Earl Johnson, Brian Foshee, the Andalusia High School marching band, and director Dillon Worley each had parts in the Veterans Day program.

The Andalusia Chamber of Commerce organized the Veterans Day parade, which might have had the most entries ever.

Both Andalusia Elementary School and Andalusia Junior High School had Veterans Day programs, as did several schools in the county school system.  CVF appreciates this work and is looking for ways to raise awareness in schools of the roles of veterans

Thank you to Mayor Earl Johnson, Andy Wiggins, Byron McClain, and all the city employees who saw that the 581 veterans tribute banners were hung. We appreciate all of the area residents who have joined us in our mission by sponsoring the banners.

Special thanks also to those who attended CVF’s “Celebration of Heroes” on Sunday, Nov. 5. Amy Dugger directed the program which featured the Andalusia High School band, Andalusia Ballet, Andalusia Elementary School’s Show Choir, the Lower Alabama Community Choir, and Colby Carlock & The Hank Williams Revue. Chief Warrant Officer Five Mike Corsaro provided thoughtful remarks.

CVF’s members worked the Kiwanis Covington County Fair to promote our activities; erected the flags on the front lawn of City Hall; put together an exhibit in City Hall; and organized a reception for the exhibit’s opening.

The City of Andalusia Ambassadors, directed by Mrs. Jeri Stroud, provided assistance at the Celebration of Heroes and on Veterans Day.

On behalf of the City of Andalusia and the members of the Covington Veterans Foundation, we hope Chief Fontenot was correct in his observation, and that local veterans know how much we appreciate the sacrifices they made that we all might be free.

— Michele Gerlach is communications director for the City of Andalusia and serves as secretary of the Covington Veterans Foundation.