Every year we predict Columbia Countys Red, White & Blue Veterans Celebration will be bigger and better than the one the year before, and every year the Memorial Day event exceeds expectations.
In just three years this event has become part of the fabric of our community. Each year the event has found a theme for itself that transcends the planned program. The first year was special because it was then-County Commission Chairman Jim Whiteheads idea of a community appreciation for the armed services brought to fruition.
The second celebration came just months after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. And this year, the war in Iraq and the effort to protect Fort Gordon renewed the sense of importance.
Already, the enthusiastic volunteers who put the program together are talking about the 2004 celebration and what can be done to improve it. If you attended this years event and have suggestions for next year, please let me know.
But before we get that far, lets thank a few of the people who made this years Red, White & Blue Veterans Celebration possible:
Columbia County Arts, Inc. The umbrella organization for local arts has played an integral role in helping secure funds for these events.
American Legion Post 192 in Evans. From helping to plan and set up the festivities to conducting the flag retirement ceremony, these folks and their ladies auxiliary are a tremendous asset.
County commissioners. Chairman Ron Cross rode in the parade and spoke at the gathering, but he also helped find hotel tax funds to pay for the fireworks. Commis-sioner Tom Mercer pitched in as a volunteer and speaker. Even though this is a volunteer-driven event funded by donations, it wouldnt be possible without Commission support.
County employees. Employees and supervisors from the Recreation and Maintenance departments, the sheriffs office and Emergency Management volunteer their time to provide the brains and muscle to make the celebration come together. These folks are just incredible - and Steve Jones and Tony Temple obviously arent paid nearly enough if they work this hard at their regular jobs.
Fort Gordon. Each celebration has included an element of Fort Gordon, but this year the base really shined: Soldiers and sailors marched in the parade, the Signal Corps band performed, the K-9 handlers gave a demonstration, and the forts commanding general, Brig. Gen. Janet Hicks, gave a rousing speech.
There are so many others: U.S. Rep. Charlie Norwood; the Girl Scouts; the Martinez Fire Department; Nettie Engels and the Columbia County schools; Beth Roberson, Pam Tucker, Charlie Beale, Rick Whitaker, Barry Smith; Barbara Daniel; Andy Kingery and the Chamber of Commerce; Gold Cross EMS; the Columbia County Choral Society and the Footloose and Fancy Free Cloggers; Monte Pittman of Flowers by Monte, George Deuhring of Zaxbys, Larry Sconyers of Sconyers Barbecue, Mots Barbecue, and on and on.
Now I know why academy award speeches are so long. Just these few name mean Ive left dozens out.
To all of them - especially Jim Whitehead - thanks for helping to make this community a place that appreciates those who serve our country. And thanks to those whose service gives us the freedom to hold such celebrations.
A recent letter by P.K. Fitzgerald of Harlem contained an incorrect headline. It should have read, Fight wont be over until 1956 flag is "on Capitol or on the ballot.
Fitzgerald favors a return to the flag Georgia flew prior to the one raised by former Gov. Roy Barnes, which itself has been replaced with a flag signed into law by Gov. Sonny Perdue.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to email@example.com.)
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