Several hundred people decked out in patriotic colors filled the lawn of the Columbia County Justice Center in Evans on Saturday for the seventh annual Red, White and Blue Veterans Celebration.
The typically upbeat and patriotic ceremonies featured a bittersweet tribute to the late U.S. Rep. Charlie Norwood. The event's annual keynote speaker died in February after a long battle with cancer and lung disease.
The tribute to Norwood included the presentation of a state Senate proclamation to the congressman's widow, Gloria Norwood, and the dedication of the courthouse's front lawn and adjacent street in the lawmaker's name.
The front lawn is named Norwood Memorial Plaza. The street from Ronald Reagan Drive to the Columbia County Library was named Norwood Drive shortly after the lawmaker's death.
U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., who served with the decorated Vietnam War veteran in the U.S. House , called Norwood his hero.
"Charlie was such a great guy, and he loved this country so much," especially members of the armed forces, Chambliss said.
The event also featured patriotic songs by the U.S. Army Signal Corps Band, gospel music from a West Acres Baptist Church quartet and a performance by the Evans High School JROTC state champion Drill Team.
Fireworks capped off the event Saturday evening.
During the ceremony, Columbia County artist Carol Kelly Dorn presented a portrait of Master Sgt. Thomas Thigpen Sr. to his widow, Theresa Thigpen, as part of the Atlanta Fine Arts League's Art from the Heart program. Thigpen, a member of the Georgia National Guard, died in Kuwait in 2004.
Brig. Gen. Randy Strong, the commander of Fort Gordon, said some living and fallen war heroes are remembered with statues or streets named in their honor, but most are anonymous citizens who answered their nation's call.
"We are here today to ensure that though their memory is fading, they will never by forgotten," he said, asking the crowd to remember to honor service members beyond Memorial Day.
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