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Two area residents among first Hall of Fame inductees

CONYERS — Two Rockdale County-area veterans will be among the first 18 inductees into the Georgia Military Veterans’ Hall of Fame.

Tommy Clack and the late Gen. Ray Davis will take their places in the Hall of Fame during ceremonies set for Friday, Nov. 22, at the Doubletree Hotel in Columbus.

Clack, who now lives in Newton County, lost three limbs in combat in Vietnam and was medically retired from the U.S. Army. He has continued to serve in various capacities assisting veterans for more than 40 years. He currently serves as chairman of the Georgia Veterans Memorial Park foundation in Rockdale County.

Clack said he was surprised and honored to be named an inductee of the Hall of Fame.

“I’m not sure I’m worthy of being there,” he said. “I do what I do because I think God let me live for a very specific reason. He puts things in my path and we proceed down that path. I work with a very great team that makes me look good.”

Clack said Americans often take for granted the number of freedoms in this country, but he said Americans do understand that it is because of the sacrifices of veterans and their families that those freedoms exist.

Davis is among seven Medal of Honor recipients from three different branches of service who will be inducted into the hall.

Davis, whose name has been given to a middle school in Rockdale County, was a highly decorated Marine Corps general who served in World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. He received the Navy Cross during World War II and the Medal of Honor during the Korean War.

Colonel (Retired) Paul R. Longgrear, a Vietnam veteran who now works full time as a minister, is the founder and director of the board of the Georgia Military Veterans’ Hall of Fame.

Longgrear said the idea for forming the Hall of Fame came to him shortly after he was inducted into the Arkansas Hall of Fame last year. Longgrear said one of his soldiers whose remains are still missing in Vietnam was inducted at the same time, and he realized that Hall of Fame induction helped to bring closure to the soldier’s family.

Longgrear said the Hall of Fame doesn’t yet have a physical location, but he’d like to establish it where it would be accessible to young people.

“Part of our mission is to educate our young people on who heroes are,” he said. “Some young lady who has a beautiful voice can sing, but she is not a hero. A young man who is an athlete can hit a ball, but he is not a hero.”

Veterans in three categories will be inducted into the hall this month: Valor, Service and Achievement.

Other inductees include:

• Civil War recipient U.S. Navy Gunner’s Mate George Leland of Savannah, who received the Medal of Honor during the battle of Charleston Harbor in 1863;

• Air Force Col. Joe Jackson and Marine Major Stephen Pless, both of Newnan, who received the Medal of Honor after they voluntarily landed their aircraft in enemy-controlled areas to rescue soldiers during the Vietnam War;

• Sgt. Rodney Davis from Macon, who earned his Medal of Honor in Vietnam by sacrificing his life for his men by leaping on an exploding grenade;

• World War II veteran Henry Elrod of Ashburn, who received the Medal of Honor for his leadership in battle on Wake Island;

• Air Force Capt. Hilliard Wilbanks of Habersham County, who was killed in action in Vietnam while flying an unarmed small plane and firing his personal weapon on the enemy force to divert them from a smaller force of Army Rangers and Vietnamese solders. He also received the Medal of Honor;

• Johnny Calhoun, a member of the secret Army Special Forces group known as SOG in Vietnam. Calhoun lost his life in order that his team members could escape. His remains have never been found. He received the Distinguished Service Cross.

• Retired Army Ranger Col. Ralph Pucket, of Columbus, who fought in Korea and Vietnam and received two Distinguished Service Crosses and numerous other awards;

• Vince Melillo, also of Columbus, who fought in World War II and was one of the original Merrill’s Marauders. He also later served in Korea and Vietnam.

• Wendall Jones of Tifton, who enlisted in the Navy during World War II at the age of 16. He was part of the Normandy invasion.

• Army Major Gen. David Grange and Army Col. Ben Purcell, who each received multiple Silver Stars, the nation’s third-highest award for valor. Purcell, of Clarksville, was a prisoner of war in Vietnam for more than five years.

• Sgt. Major of the Army William, of Monticello, who is one of a few solders ever to be named the highest-ranking enlisted person in the U.S. Army;

• Pete Wheeler, an Army WWII veterans who has served as director of the Department of Veterans Service for Georgia for more than 50 years;

• John Yates of Griffin, an Army WWII veteran, state congressman and chairman of the Defense and Veterans Affairs Committee for the state; and

• Allan Imes, also from Griffin, who is a retired Army lieutenant colonel and Vietnam veteran who for decades worked with youngsters through the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps program at Griffin High School.

For more information on the Hall of Fame and the induction ceremony, visit www.GMVHOF.org.