Photo by Michael Buckelew
COVINGTON -- Ordinary people accomplishing extraordinary things -- that's what veterans are, said keynote speaker Glenn Whitaker at a Veterans Day ceremony hosted by American Legion Post 32 on the Square in downtown Covington on Wednesday.
"America owes a debt of gratitude to her veterans that can never be repaid," he said.
Whitaker gave several examples of everyday men and women who have risen to heroic heights while serving in the military.
The first was Marine Sgt. Clay South of Greenwood, Ind., who on Veterans Day 2004 was shot by Iraqi insurgents while fighting in Fallujah. South was further injured when a hand grenade exploded, shattering the bones in his face. He now has a titanium jaw, 22 false teeth and constant numbness in his face.
Following his discharge, South has devoted his life to visiting veterans in military hospitals, delivering gifts and arranging outings through his foundation, Veterans of Valor.
Whitaker also spoke of Army Spc. Monica Brown, a 19-year-old from Texas who recently became the second woman since World War II to receive the Silver Star Medal for Gallantry in combat.
A medic traveling with a four-vehicle convoy in eastern Afghanistan in April of 2007, Brown saved the lives of five wounded soldiers after their Humvee was struck by an IED.
Former President Ronald Reagan once said such heroes are found "in the streets, in the offices, the shops and the working places of our country and on the farms."
"President Reagan was referring to ordinary people accomplishing extraordinary things," Whitaker said.
Such acts of heroism are saving the entire country, he said.
"They are helping us. It is America, not the American military, that al-Qaida and the other terrorists have declared war on. But our armed forces carry the great burden of defending and protecting us," he said.
Fewer than 10 percent of Americans can claim the title military veteran, Whitaker said, and that small group of citizens and their families deserve to be honored through deeds and not just words.
"We should honor them not just with blue and gold star banners but with compassion in our hearts," he said.
Whitaker is an American Legion member who was drafted in 1966. His military career was cut short when a hand grenade prematurely exploded and injured him while he was in basic training.
He spent the next nine months being treated in three different military hospitals. After being discharged, Whitaker resumed his career with the Georgia State Patrol. He retired after 28 years of service. He has lived in Newton County for 44 years. He and his wife Lura have two sons.
About 50 people braved gusting winds and drizzling rain to attend the ceremony, which included the posting of colors by the Social Circle High School Army Junior ROTC and the singing of the national anthem, "God Bless America" and "God Bless the USA" by Ric Chiapetta, artistic director for the Arts Association in Newton County and the Conyers-Rockdale Council for the Arts.