Community members planning to attend the Veterans Day program at the Walk of Heroes Veterans Memorial in Rockdale include, bottom from left, Newton County resident Bob Atkinson, Vietnam War veteran and Walk of Heroes board member; Rockdale resident Norman Wheeler, Walk of Heroes board member; Newton resident Tommy Clack, Vietnam War veteran and chairman of the Walk of Heroes; top from left, Rockdale resident Lewis Clemons Jr., Vietnam War veteran; Rockdale resident Val Archer, WWII veteran and Tuskegee Airman; Rockdale resident Bud Sosebee, WWII veteran; and Forest Park resident Sparkle Adams, a Vietnam War era veteran who served until 2006. The group is shown at the Walk of Heroes Memorial in Rockdale County. (Staff Photo: Karen Rohr)
On Veterans Day, Nov. 11, most observations to honor veterans in Georgia will be at 11 a.m., explained Tommy Clack, but he has decided to go against the grain and present a program beginning in the afternoon in Rockdale.
That’s because Clack wants to reach the younger generation and make them understand the contribution men and women in the armed forces have made to this country. He’s distributed some 12,000 fliers about the event to schools and businesses in the area.
“My intent this year is to try and find a way to get the school kids involved, since they don’t have a holiday on that day, anymore,” said Clack, a Vietnam War veteran, former Georgia Department of Veterans Services employee and current volunteer chairman of the board of the Walk of Heroes Veterans War Memorial in north Rockdale County. “The kids don’t get a lot of exposure that I grew up with, and that you probably grew up with.”
To that end, Clack has organized a Veterans Day 2013 celebration that begins at 3 p.m. on Nov. 11 at the Walk of Heroes Veterans Memorial at Black Shoals Park in north Rockdale County. The event is free and is open to the public.
“The idea is we want the whole county and surrounding communities to show up,” Clack said.
From 3 to 7:30 p.m., community members can stop by the Memorial and view a display of military vehicles, and soldiers’ uniforms and equipment such as rifles. Collectors will bring five different vehicles from trucks to tank-like personnel transporters. A display will also feature soldier uniforms from every branch of the military, including a WWII Ike jacket.
“It will be an awesome display,” Clack said. “People like looking and asking questions.”
Event-goers can also peruse an information booth about the Memorial and learn how they can purchase pavers to help fundraise for the Memorial. Pavers honoring veterans can be purchased for $100 or $200 depending on the size and lines of copy.
At 5:15 p.m., Belmont Baptist Church Choir will present a patriotic concert and sing the following: “A Salute to the Armed Forces,” which is a medley paying tribute to all branches of the armed forces; “It’s an Honor to Serve,” about a prisoner of war returning home; “Livin’ in the Homeland,” “a rockin’ piece,” according to choir director Patrick Ham; and the national anthem, sung by soloist Janson Roberts. The 40-member choir will conclude with “America the Beautiful.”
“I wanted to end with something familiar and really big,” said Ham, whose church choir also presented a patriotic performance on the Square in Covington on July 4, 2012.
Keynote speaker Dick Caillouet, an F-4 jet fighter pilot during the Vietnam War, who also served in Korea and Germany, will address the crowd at 6 p.m. Caillouet is the state coordinator for the Wounded Warrior Foundation, a non-profit that assists injured service members in adjusting back to daily life when they return home from combat.
A bagpiper performance and a missing man table ceremony follows Caillouet. The missing man table ceremony entails a table set for six: one for each branch of the military — Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard — and one for the civilians who died during conflicts. The ceremony is meant to honor fallen, missing or imprisoned military service members.
“It’s a very solemn, hair-raising-on-the-back-of-your-neck ceremony,” Clack said. “I want to show the public because it’s a dying thing, most people aren’t exposed to it.”
To end the evening, event-goers will be asked to hold up their cellphone lights to simulate a candlelight ceremony, as a tribute to deceased veterans.
Clack said the City of Conyers and Rockdale County are assisting with the logistics of the event, and the Order of the Arrow Scout Troop will volunteer their time at the event.
In case of rain, the event will be held at the Rockdale County Government Annex, 1400 Parker Road in Conyers.
Clack aims to honor the more than 776,000 veterans in Georgia and 24 million nationwide by holding the tribute. He also hopes to bring more attention to the Memorial by holding the Veterans Day event at that location. The Memorial currently features paved walkways, sculptures, and stone and brick arches and walls.
The goal is to transform the space along the walkway into stations educating the public about each war fought by the U.S. and the sacrifice made by soldiers.
Clack said about $2.8 million has been raised for the Memorial, which has a price tag of $32 million.
“It’s a great challenge,” said Clack, who remains hopeful about the Memorial’s completion. “God puts everything in our path for a reason and we move on it.”
For more information, call 770-786-2302 or visit www.walkofheroes.org.
If you go
What: Veteran’s Day Tribute
When: 3 to 7:15 p.m. on Nov. 11
Where: Walk of Heroes Veterans Memorial at Black Shoals Park, 3001 Black Shoals Road off of Bethel Road in north Rockdale County
Info: For more information, call 770-786-2302 or visit www.walkofheroes.org.