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Vets Day service focuses on remembering

Eugene Conner, of Jackson Lake, salutes at the end of the Monday Veteran's Day ceremony held on the Square.

Eugene Conner, of Jackson Lake, salutes at the end of the Monday Veteran's Day ceremony held on the Square.

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:Ava Frazier, 3, all decked out in stars and stripes, hugs her grandfather, veteran Glenn Whitaker. Ava celebrated her birthday on Sunday, Veterans Day. She attended the ceremony with her mom, Erin Frazier. - Staff Photos: Sue Ann Kuhn-Smith

COVINGTON -- Dr. Douglas Gilreath spoke about the power of memories at the Veterans Day ceremony hosted by American Legion Post 32 in downtown Covington Monday morning.

"There is power in remembering," said Gilreath, senior pastor of Covington First United Methodist Church.

"Memory shapes us, memory forms us. Our memories inspire us and our memories comfort us. Our memories also have power to haunt us, crush us, weaken us and destroy us," he said.

Gilreath asked those in the crowd, "What are you here to remember?" He said his choice of memory is a day 43 years ago when he was 5 years old and he traveled with his mother and siblings to Dobbins Air Force Base to welcome his father home from Vietnam. He said he remembers standing behind a rope, waiting for his dad to appear. "I thought, 'When I see my dad, there's no way this small rope is going to be able to hold me back ... We jumped in his arms and we held onto him like we'd never held onto him before ... I don't remember my dad leaving. I really don't remember him being gone. But I'll never forget him coming home. So many of our soldiers are fighting in foreign lands. They all need to come home," he said.

Gilreath also recalled years later discussing the Vietnam War with his father. When Gilreath described the war as "unpopular," his father responded, "Can you name me a war that's never been unpopular? All war is unpopular, son. A true soldier despises war, despises the conflict."

Gilreath said his father told him the reason soldiers are willing to suffer and sacrifice is "because of the person beside us, because of our brothers and sisters in arms who were willing to sacrifice their lives for us, and we were willing to sacrifice our lives for them."

Gilreath said he dreamed of serving in the military as a child but was not able to due to a severe visual impairment.

"Even though I am not a veteran, I say to you, take heart. Today I remember. Tomorrow I will remember. I will do so until I am but a memory," he said.

Gilreath also encouraged veterans to share their stories, even though it may be painful "so we may remember and be able to pass that memory on to others. For you indeed have a story to share."

Eugene Conner, an 82-year-old Korean war veteran, attended the ceremony. "I'm trying to remember some of the guys here and pay my respects to these veterans," he said.

Conner recalled being a 17-year-old and sitting on a bench on the Square before heading over to the Post Office to enlist. Conner served under Gen. Douglas MacArthur and was under MacArthur when Truman fired the general.

Charlotte Epps wore a patriotic sweater and the medal of her late husband, Col. Jones N. Epps, representing his two combat jumps. Her husband fought in World War II, Korea and Vietnam. An injury he suffered during the Battle of the Bulge eventually caused his death. Epps and his two sons are buried in Mansfield. One son survived Vietnam but was killed in a training accident. Another was en route to Vietnam and was killed in an automobile accident.

"I'm just as much a veteran as they are," said Epps, who has one surviving veteran son and two daughters.

"I am here to honor all these veterans. There's no way as a community we can express enough appreciation for them."