Veterans and their family members gathered Sunday morning at Veterans Memorial Park in north Rockdale to share their views on the federal government shutdown and, in particular, how it has affected veterans. Shown here, left to right, are Janice Talian, who served in the Marines for eight years; Vada Timberlake, whose brother was killed in Korea; and Logan Sligh, 8, with his grandfather Gary Timberlake, an Army veteran who served in Vietnam. Vada Timberlake said she was especially concerned about death benefits that had been withheld from the families of those killed while in service. (Special Photos: Sue Ann Kuhn-Smith)
CONYERS — As the partial federal government shutdown dragged on, about 100 area veterans, family members and supporters gathered Sunday morning at Veterans Memorial Park in Rockdale County for a peaceful rally against the closing of war memorials in Washington, D.C., and elsewhere.
Though no formal program was planned, several veterans spoke, calling on those among their ranks to make their voices heard in Washington. Among their concerns were the closing of veterans memorials and the suspension of veterans benefits, including the death benefit paid to families of fallen soldiers.
The rally in Rockdale coincided with the Million Vet March on the Memorials in Washington, D.C., in which hundreds protested the closing of the World War II Memorial on the National Mall. Veterans Memorial Park and The National Infantry Museum in Columbus were designated as alternate rally sites in Georgia for those who couldn't make it to Washington.
Tommy Clack, chairman of the board of the Walk of Heroes memorial at Veterans Memorial Park, moderated the event, giving veterans and supporters the opportunity to share their thoughts.
In addition to veterans issues, several speakers also decried the standoff in Washington and the political landscape in general.
Conyers resident Grady Mullins said the power to make changes is in the hands of the voters.
“It’s up to ‘we the people’ to change the direction our country is headed,” he said, noting that a published poll indicated that 60 percent of Americans favored replacing every congressman now in Washington. “The main thing we have to change that is the ballot box,” Mullins said.
Pete Mecca, who served in Air Force intelligence in Vietnam, defended federal workers who barricaded national monuments and parks.
“They have been told what to do … and they have been reporting secretly to the journalists and some newspaper reporters they don’t want to do this,” Mecca said. “They are doing something they don’t want to do; they are having to block Americans from taking photos of Mt. Rushmore. How evil can you get?”
Mecca decried the fact that water fountain handles had been removed from fountains at some national monuments and parks.
“I don’t know how low this federal government can go,” he said. “But I expect it to get worse before it gets better.”
Mecca spoke about the numbers of young men and women who were injured or lost their lives in defense of their country.
“These men and women did not lose their lives so that you and I would have to put up with the junk that is going on in Washington, D.C.,” he said. … “My father fought in World War II; he was in India and Burma … he had a permanent neck injury from a Japanese bomb attack, and I can guarantee you that my father did not fight in World War II so that his only son would have to put up with the junk that’s going on in Washington, D.C.”
Mecca called on those present to make their voices heard.
“Get up, stand up and speak up,” he said. “This country does not belong to the politicians; it belongs to us.”
Clack said the thoughts expressed at the rally would be shared with those in Washington.
“We are going to let our Georgia congressional delegation know that this assembly did happen,” he said. “We will pass it on to them that there are many concerned citizens here and across this country who are thinking just like we are thinking; let’s walk out of these gates and make it happen.”
Following Sunday’s rally, which lasted about an hour, Rockdale resident David Cooper said he attended in support of those who have been injured in service, for the families of those who died in the service of their country and whose benefits have not been paid. Cooper, who served in the Air Force, was injured during the Cold War era and lost his left arm and part of his right leg.
“I gave my service willingly,” he said … “I just cannot believe what is happening with those who have made the supreme sacrifice. That’s why I’m here,” he said. “I understand the plight of being hurt or, God forbid, losing a family member. I have a nephew in Afghanistan right now. I just couldn’t imagine something happening like dying for your country and then they want to treat this like we’re pawns in a political struggle. It’s just disgraceful that they would drag us into this position.”
Army veteran James Jones said he came to the rally from Duluth “because I couldn’t get to Washington fast enough.”
“I came to make sure that our national memorials are open,” he said. “What’s going on is despicable. The president of the United States should put his head down in total disgust. It’s ridiculous.”