Conservative estimates put the crowd at Columbia County's Fifth Annual Red, White and Blue Veterans Celebration at 900.
That number for the May 28 event in front of the Justice Center in Evans is based on some hard numbers, along with a wild guess about the tremendous number of people sprawled on the lawn across the street at the Doctors Hospital field just to watch the only annual fireworks show in the Evans town center.
Whatever the crowd size, though, the most important number is still one. There's just one of every person who helped set up this event as volunteer, and even though there are dozens of them, they still come together as one each year to thank our living veterans and remember those who have left us.
And I would like to thank every one of them.
Jim Whitehead loves to tell the story about the agreement he and I made back in 2000: If I helped him put together a Memorial Day event, he said, he'd help me light a Columbia County Christmas tree.
Since then, a committed group of volunteers and Columbia County employees has helped put together the Red, White and Blue Veterans Celebration and the lighting of Columbia County's Christmas tree.
But none of it would have happened without Jim Whitehead, who since 2000 has gone on to become Columbia County's state senator and to open a second tire store in Evans. He's a very busy man, yet he still had time to set up chairs this past Saturday, to lead the pledge of allegiance, to hand out sandwiches to soldiers and to cajole Maj. Gen. Janet Hicks into pinning corsages on the wives of honorees at the event.
Still, he's just one; there are many more. County employees like Stacie Adkins, Pam Tucker, Charlie Beale, Barry Smith, Steve Jones, Tony Temple and Sheriff's Office Capt. Rick Whitaker are indispensable, as are fire department Battalion Chief Danny Kuhlmann and other Martinez-Columbia firefighters, and the school system's Nettie Engels.
And I can't possibly give enough thanks to folks like Jim Whelan, Mirian Stein, Barbara Daniel, Jim Hussey, Don Lewis and Andy Kingery and to all the Fort Gordon staffers.
The people on stage deserve applause, too. Kaitlyn Dunaway was a runaway hit, and the U.S. Army Signal Corps Band is incredible. The kids from the Evans and Lakeside JROTC units were wonderful, and Richard Rogers of WRDW-TV 12 has been ever faithful, working as master of ceremonies every year. County Commission Chairman Ron Cross also does a fantastic job.
We've been fortunate in Columbia County to have our sitting U.S. congressman speak each year at Red, White and Blue, as well as the commanding general of Fort Gordon. Charlie Norwood did a great job this year, oxygen tank and all, and Maj. Gen. Hicks gave a marvelous farewell speech. In retirement, she'll be a great asset at Augusta Prep.
And God bless the kind people of Harlem, led by Mayor Scott Dean. This year they set up a breakfast the morning of Red, White and Blue to help spread the reach of our appreciation for veterans.
Have I left someone out? Undoubtedly. There is one more person I need to recognize for their contribution to the event: you.
Each one of those 900 or so spectators, whether they were there for the entire ceremony or just dropped in to see the fireworks, were participants in one of the events that Jim Whitehead and I hope helps to contribute to building a sense of community in the middle of what is becoming Columbia County's urban center.
One really is the most important number. We're one community, and it's a very good one, at that.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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