State Sen. Jim Whitehead, R-Evans, describes himself as a man who still gets goose bumps every time The Star-Spangled Banner or God Bless America are played.
"I have always been very patriotic," Whitehead said. "I have always loved this country and this county, and I still believe that we should honor our country and we should honor our fallen veterans."
For that reason, Whitehead joined with Barry Paschal, the publisher of The Columbia County News-Times, six years ago to organize the Red, White and Blue Veterans Celebration, a Memorial Day weekend event to celebrate and honor military veterans and current servicemen and women.
Organizers estimate more than 900 people crowded the lawn of the Columbia County Justice Center and Courthouse Annex in Evans for the fifth annual celebration last year.
"This is the sixth year for Columbia County's Red, White and Blue Veterans Celebration, and it's been around long enough that it's become a Memorial Day weekend institution for the community," Paschal said. "We hear every year from people who attend that it's one of their favorite events."
County Commission Chairman Ron Cross will open the event with a welcome at 6:30 p.m. Saturday, followed by a performance by the U.S. Navy Chorus.
A patriotic parade down Ronald Reagan Drive of Fort Gordon soldiers, led by the Fort Gordon Signal Corps Band, will begin about 7 p.m., with the colors posted by Evans High School JROTC, which also will be recognized for the drill team's most recent state championship.
Saturday's guest speakers will include Brig. Gen. Randolph P. Strong, the commanding officer of Fort Gordon, and U.S. Rep. Charlie Norwood, R-Ga.
"We've been very pleased each year that as speakers we've had the sitting U.S. congressman from this district, and the commanding general from Fort Gordon," Paschal said. "In fact, this year Rep. Norwood's office actually called us to make sure we were reserving a place for him on the program."
The evening's program will include performances by the U.S. Navy Chorus and the Fresh Music All-Star Dixieland Band, and the playing of the theme song from each branch of military service.
"If you are there when they play the salutes to all the different corps, if you don't get chill bumps, then somehow you are missing out on one of the great traditions of this country," Whitehead said.
The event also will include a Wall of Honor, where participants can post the names of current or former services members from their families, the winners of a patriotic art contest held in county schools this spring and lots of food and patriotic music.
Old or worn flags will be retired by an area Boy Scout troop under the supervision of American Legion Post 192, in Evans, which retires flags at the event each year. Old, worn flags can be dropped off at the event or at the Legion headquarters on Legion Road off Owens Road.
As it has each year, the event will end with a display of fireworks at 9 p.m., shot off from the Evans Towne Centre Field, across from the Evans courthouse.
For more information, contact Stacie Adkins at (706) 868-3484.
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