Prattville – A couple of hundred people attended a reunion reception on Sunday for those veterans and guardians who have made an Honor Flight trip to the World War II Memorial in Washington, D. C. The event, marking the beginning of Military Appreciation Week, was held at the Doster Center and was hosted by the River Region Honor Flight.
In addition to Prattville Mayor Jim Byard Jr., Honor Flight Chairman, other local and state officials attending the reception were Senator Wendell Mitchell (who gave the program invocation), State Representative Mac Gipson, Wetumpka Mayor Jerry Willis, Tallassee Mayor George McCain, and Selma Mayor George Evans. Roscoe Williams and Dr. Ed Mullins, co-founders of Honor Flight were also on hand for the festivities.
Restaurants contributing food and drink included Logan’s, Subway, McAllister’s Deli, Beef O’Brady’s, Jim’s, and Brenda’s Bakery. The Prattville Pops orchestra, led by John Paul Jones, played patriotic tunes throughout the afternoon and several girls from the Autauga County 4H Star-Spangled Stampede assisted at the serving tables.
Kellie Cook, Prattville’s Special Events Director, coordinated the activities on Sunday.
About 70 veterans were present at the reception along with their families and guardians who accompanied them on the Honor Flights. During the first hour, Byard was pleased with the large crowd that was already mingling at the gathering.
“The turnout is just awesome,” the mayor said. “But, the thing that continues to impress me is when they walk in and say, ‘thank you for doing this,’ and we did nothing … thank you for serving.”
One such man who proudly served his country is newlywed, Marion “Pete” Edwards, who attended the Honor Flight in October of last year. The veteran was amazed that some Prattville sixth graders would make the Washington trip with them at their own cost.
“There must have been 60 or 70 of them lining the walkways and the streets,” he said. “It was just amazing. That is my favorite memory of the trip.”
Edwards served in the 35th Infantry Division during the war and fought in the European Theater.
“The first eight days we were in combat, we lost 2,400 men,” continued Edwards. “We were under Patton and all Patton knew was, ‘Go get ‘em.’”
Edwards and his new bride, Betty, have been married for five weeks, but had known each other for many years at the First Baptist Church in the city.
Like Edwards, Pat Magill of Prattville saw the Memorial last year and described it as a wonderful experience.
“People were unbelievable,” Magill said. “The reception we got in Washington … I never dreamed people would come out like that.”
As an army nurse during World War II, Magill was stationed in Long Island, New York, at a mental hospital and describes her work there as difficult.
“We had thousands who were treated during the war and most of them were too bad to return to combat,” said Magill. “No one realized ,,, but I do about the problems that these kids returning from Iraq could have.”
For Wetumpka native Morgan Smith, his story went beyond his Navy service in the Second World War to aiding another nation in a fight for freedom during the Soviet Communist occupation of Nicarauga.
“I was in Costa Rica for a U.S. corporation. We were going to sell airplanes there,” Smith said. “I get a knock on the door of my apartment and it was a man named Poco Chamorro whose family owned one of the biggest newspapers in Nicaragua. He asked me to assist the Freedom Fighters.”
Smith made broadcasts on clandestine radio and many times acted as an advisor to the group. He compared their passion for fighting Communism to the thirteen colonies at war with the British during the American Revolution.
“The Freedom Fighters had nothing to do with being contra,” said Smith. “These people were fighting for their freedom and so were we.”
Smith flew on the second Honor Flight and described his feelings at seeing the memorial as “emotional.”
David Lewis was also touched while acting as guardian on the second Honor Flight for three veterans – Howard Alexander from Montgomery, Calvin Caskin of Coosada, and James Dozier from Wetumpka. Lewis said that he truly admires all of the gentlemen and ladies who served our country and that traveling with them was one of the greatest experiences of his life.
“The biggest thing was that they think they didn’t do anything special to deserve this,” Lewis said. “I think they were all surprised by what a big deal everybody made of them.”
That same feeling was expressed by navy man Ed Drinkard, according to his daughter, Martha Hoyle of Prattville.
“Dad just loved the flight and was so impressed by the overwhelming response of the community,” Hoyle said. “People came to the airport to greet them even though they may not have had relatives there. It has been so touching for all of us.”
Drinkard, a former Prattville attorney, drafted a poem, which he wished to share with his friends at the Doster Center on Sunday. It depicts his experiences on an Honor Flight and speaks of the freedoms that men and women fought for in foreign wars.
The poem is entitled, “In the Shadows of the Washington Monument, There’s a Place Called D.C. Mall.” The following is that poem in its entirety because it not only conveys the thoughts and emotions of one man, but may just sum up the feelings for an entire era called “The Greatest Generation”:
In the shadows of the Washington Monument
There’s a place called D.C. Mall.
It’s a tribute to WW II veterans,
“The Greatest Generation,” they are called.
Veterans are proud of Washington Monument
And the beautiful Veteran’s Mall.
Seven acres beneath the sky and stars,
Denotes the Atlantic and Pacific Wars.
The WW II Honor Flight was special,
And veterans will be forever grateful.
The police escorted event began
With siren sounds and flashing lights,
And ended the same way, the same day.
To promoters: Thanks a lot!
You truly warmed an old vet’s heart.
We’re truly proud of freedom’s wall.
It commemorates freedom’s cost,
When 400,000 men were lost.
There was granite and bronze construction
Of this important memorial site,
And there’s unbelievable lighting
That brightens those D.C. nights.
The memorial is a real work of art,
It depicts the world at war
When everyone was part.
When folks all loved one another,
And kept God within their heart.
Other men who died for our nation’s cause
Also found in solace there.
The Korean vets and others too,
Really showed their love and care.
However, the memorial to Vietnam vets
Is the most appropriate of all,
Old Glory flies from a massive staff
As proof of their answered call.
Also, there’s the unknown soldiers
And the changing of the guards.
There’s the grief that follows,
And the sadness that’s hard.
There’s the tribute to Iwo Jima,
And the flag that was raised
Over the land of the free
And the home of the brave.
There’s a special memory of the war
And personal parts one played.
The World War II battles
It seemed they’d never end.
Likewise the strength and valor,
That scored the greatest win.
Senator Dole was guide and host,
To show old vets around,
To see what they liked most
About their D.C. town.
Veterans often have memories of the war
Perhaps when a young sailor boy.
My memory’s of the Golden Gate
And the time we sailed beneath.
And it’s about other sailors
Who’re still sleeping in the deep.
But, the sweetest memory
Of which we seldom speak
Will be that promised meeting
With the “Prince of Peace.”
By Edward W. Drinkard
Article by Melissa Parker
© 2009 Our Prattville. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the express written consent of the publisher.