Seniors Celebrate Soldiers

July 1, 2011 by · 1 Comment 

by Michael Barone

Without the Athens Community Council on Aging, many of their clients wouldn’t be living the lives they experience today. Lacking family members to care for them or means of transportation, most would end up stuck at home, alone.

“The senior center is for low-income clients… and we provide transportation, a hot meal and activities five days a week between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m.,” said Susan Bush, Manager of the senior center at ACCA. “They’re all in their 70s to 90s, so they’ve all lived through at least one of the wars.”

The ACCA is like a second family for these people.

Because the senior center is closed on Memorial Day, they celebrated a little early, bussing folks out to Sandy Creek Park, on Friday, May 27, 2011, for a group picnic.

“The picnic today was a lot of fun because some of them don’t get a chance to get out nowhere because they don’t have transportation,” said Deborah Oliver, ACCA Program Assistant.

The clients played games and prizes were given to winners.

Music started off with old cassette tapes featuring artists like Louis Armstrong, but the real dancing didn’t begin until Aretha Franklin’s “Chain of Fools” came on, and continued for The Drifters’ “Under the Boardwalk.”

The picnic peaked at lunchtime. Mr. Emerson Smith manned the grill, cooking up hot dogs and sausages. Coleslaw, baked beans and potato chips complemented the dogs. Clients ate until they were full, and washed it down with sweet tea or lemonade.

Anarchists and Veterans

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by Stephen Terry

Memorial Day is a holiday many people observe by visiting memorials and cemeteries of fallen veterans and giving thanks to those who serve. Others spend it by watching the Indianapolis 500 while having a barbeque with family and friends.

Gabe Benson, 22, from Watkinsville, Ga., does not celebrate Memorial Day, at all. Though Benson’s father, Parker Benson, 55, from Athens, Tenn., served in the U.S. Navy for four years, Benson believes that there is nothing to celebrate. Benson, who is a pacifist as well as an anarchist, believes there should be no government or military.

“I’m an anarchist because I’m a Christian,” Benson said. “And after reading through the Bible and other books, I have come to the conclusion that Jesus is evidently against all forms of violence.”

Benson says that his relationship with his father, who is now a pastor, does not suffer due to their different beliefs on Memorial Day.

“It gives us something to talk about,” Benson said.

Benson says his father supports him in whatever he does and has never forced him to do anything or believe a certain way.

“My dad would be proud of me if I joined the military, but he would be just as proud of me if I was a janitor,” Benson said.

So, instead of celebrating Memorial Day by thanking his father for his service in the U.S. Navy, Benson spends his day in front of his computer playing guitar, playing video games and reading the Bible.

VFW Honors Those Who Answered the Call

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by Randi Hildreth

VFW Post #4706 in Decatur, Ga., paid tribute to soldiers in a brief ceremony. The service was held Monday, May 30, 2011. Vietnam Veteran, Harold Roberts, presided over the ceremony. Roberts noted that although the Post does not have long ceremonies, they do take the day very seriously and value the importance of honoring those who have served. He said, “We do not take this day lightly, as a day off, but as a day to memorialize our fallen comrades.” During the ceremony, members reflected on their service tenure and paid special tributes to late Veterans. A plaque displaying the names of late members was read during the service and displayed in the post to pay homage.

Roberts discussed his involvement with the military and the VFW Post. He served during the 1970’s. After serving one year at Fort Eustis in Virginia, he was deployed to the Republic of Vietnam. He served as platoon leader and was in charge of transporting consumed goods, like butter, guns, ammunition, and fuel. Roberts completed his tour of duty in 1972.

He currently serves as Judge Advocate of the VFW Post. He says the post has allowed him to hone his leadership skills and meet people with similar backgrounds. The VFW is a military service organization for soldiers that have served in foreign conflict. The post creates a home for these veterans and provides a strong network and support system. Roberts said, “We support each other, we support our families and we also support the community”.

I Made It Back

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by Megan Graves

Capt. Josh Darnell returned from Afghanistan with a new view on what Memorial Day meant to him.

“Before I was deployed, like most Americans I viewed Memorial Day as an interchangeable holiday with Veterans Day,” says Darnell, “After I got hurt and I lost those two soldiers that were under my command it drastically changed the way I view the day. Now I am very protective of the difference in the two days.”

The University of Georgia Alumni from Watkinsville, Ga., was stationed in Hutal, Afghanistan where he and his soldiers worked with the local populations to help establish security.

While on patrol Darnell and his platoon came into contact with a suicide bomber, on Jan. 8, 2009. Darnell suffered serious injuries and was to undergo medical treatment for his right leg, hip, arm and shoulder. He spent the next 7.5 months undergoing more than a dozen surgeries, getting treatments and therapy.

Two soldiers, Staff Sgt. Joshua Rath and Cpl. Keith Essary were killed instantly from the blast.

Memorial Day now reminds Darnell of the two soldiers he lost. Whenever Memorial Day is mentioned he visualizes their faces, names, voices and stories.

“People will come up to me and thank me on Memorial Day,” says Darnell, “I’ll say that’s very nice but this day is not for me, I made it back, Memorial Day is for the guys that didn’t.”

Following the Family Footsteps

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by Lauren Allen

Benjamin Baker, 23, of Peachtree City, Ga. is anxiously awaiting the opportunity to follow in his father and grandfather’s footsteps as pilots for the U.S. military. Baker has just begun the preliminary steps to join the U.S. Air Force Reserves where he plans to carry on the family business as a pilot.

Baker’s grandfather, a bomber pilot in WWII who retired as a Colonel in the Air Force, and his father, who retired as a pilot from the Coast Guard to fly for Delta Airlines, have had an enormous impact on his choice to join the military.

Some of Baker’s fondest childhood memories are of air shows he and his father regularly attended in San Diego where his father was stationed.

“I remember being a little kid…sitting on top of a parking deck. My dad had me held and I remember watching [the airplanes]. I thought it was the coolest damn thing I’d ever seen. It was awesome. Stuff like that has always stayed with me.”

While he never pressured him to join the military, Baker says his father is “tickled to death” that he wants to become a pilot because it is now a topic they can relate on.
“Just the other day, I asked him how people navigate in the air—it’s not like there are roadways. So he took me through navigation systems from WWII up until now. It’s cool to have a kind of mentor for what I want to do sitting in my house.”

As a 2010 graduate of The University of Georgia’s Terry College of Business in finance, Baker says it was during his junior year of college when he realized the business world was not for him and started exploring other career fields.

“I had an internship. I went and worked in an office…wore a suit everyday. It just didn’t feel right. The second I step onto that flight line and see those jets out there, those aircrafts sitting out there, all in a row, I know what I want to do.”

Controlling the Air, Controlling Emotions

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by Lisa Glaser

Darrell Chaisson, a 67-year-old Air Force veteran, worked on Memorial Day, just as he works every Monday as the air traffic control tower chief at the Athens-Ben Epps airport.

He understands firsthand the day’s meaning though. Chaisson served in the Air Force from 1967-70, which included a year at a base in Takhli, Thailand during the Vietnam War. As an air traffic controller, Chaisson helped with thousands of take-offs and landings, many of which were either heading to or returning from battle. Chaisson talked pilots through crisis situations and said he realized he might be the last voice one of his fellow soldiers would hear.

After returning from Thailand, Chaisson continued his civilian life as an air traffic controller at several airports, including Savannah, Ga. The veteran joined the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO) and went on strike with the union in 1981.

When President Ronald Reagan broke the strike by firing all those participating, over 11,000, and banned them for life from working for the government, Chaisson’s life changed remarkably. Chaisson said he felt devastated – his livelihood had been taken away, a livelihood created from his service to his country.

“It probably broke my heart, because we really felt like things were justified, the problems that we had. At the time, we didn’t realize they would go to great lengths to keep us out,” Chaisson said.

“It changed my life for a while. It gave me a new perspective on things and a little bit on the government too. They lie. They really lie.”

Until President Bill Clinton lifted the ban on the striking members in 1993, Chaisson owned and operated a wallpaper business. He also worked on his family’s farm in Jefferson, Ga., where he still raises thousands of chickens to sell each year. The Shields-Ethridge Heritage farm has been in his wife’s family for eight generations, dating back to 1866, and is a field trip destination for surrounding schools.

Chaisson started at the Ben Epps airport 17 years ago last month as a controller before becoming the tower’s administrator two years ago. He oversees four other controllers; three served in the Navy and one in the Air Force. They all worked at some point over the Memorial Day weekend.

Pappy Harmon and the Cannon

July 1, 2011 by · 2 Comments 

by Mark Stephenson

They’re just firing a half load of powder, Pappy says. Nearby Marietta wouldn’t appreciate being bombarded twice on the hour, every hour, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. this Memorial Day weekend.

Still, the cannon creates a sonic boom impressive enough to make the audiences at Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park collectively flinch, cover their ears and then, wowed, applaud. Harold “Pappy” Harmon, Airman 1st Class, seems undaunted by the blast, however. Pappy, along with 12 others in Union Army attire, is a Civil War reenactor. The group honors Memorial Day by commemorating the history of the battlefield with an artillery demonstration.

“I’ve been doing this for almost twenty years now,” Harmon says. He claims he could “go to a reenactment every single weekend if [he] wanted to.”

According to Lili Harmon, his granddaughter, Pappy is a well known figure among reenacting circles.

“He’s famous…Do a Google search,” she says proudly. Lili, who has accompanied her grandfather throughout his soldiering, is following in Pappy’s footsteps: she is majoring in history in college and this summer starts her internship at the Kennesaw Mountain Visitor Center. The two have even started competing.

“In my old age, I went back to college,” Pappy explains, “I’m a junior.” Studying political science in hopes of teaching, Pappy ribs his granddaughter about making better grades.

Despite enjoying school, Pappy says he looks forward to donning his uniform more often this summer, and talks excitedly about an upcoming shoot in July as he gazes across the field at his fellow soldiers preparing the cannon for another firing.

Front Lines and the Football Field

July 1, 2011 by · 2 Comments 

by Casey Bruce

In the small town of McKeesport, Penn., four black boys grew up in a tiny apartment with a single mother who emphasized discipline and focus in their studies. Like most boys their age, they roughhoused, playing with neighborhood kids, imagining themselves triumphing in the big leagues.

In 1964, two of the boys achieved their dream, playing football in a high school stadium amongst thousands. The other two journeyed to the heart of darkness, to fight a war that seemed never ending.

Juandell Wilson, 62, of McKeesport, Penn., remembers when his brother, the late Charles “Rock” Wilson, and he, scored one of the greatest touchdowns in McKeesport High School history in 1964. He also remembers the anguish that disrupted his family when his two older brothers, Willie and Willis Wilson, journeyed to Vietnam, and returned not as “heroes,” but as disabled soldiers from “the war we forgot.”

It was on War Memorial Field that the two boys gained victory on the football field, leading them to college on full athletic scholarships.

For Juandell Wilson, it eventually led him to serve in the National Guard, the NFL as a running back on the Atlanta Falcon’s football team, and two years of active duty with the Army. He later became a civil engineer.

Today, living in Stone Mountain, Ga., with his wife Brenda, and a daughter, Ashley, he gives thanks to the military and to God for teaching him honor and duty.
Unfortunately, his family’s story is one that shows the divisiveness of war in a culture where athletes are honored and troops are not. “Which do we honor, the athletes…or the troops who protect all of our borders, so we can be a fan of the game?” Wilson said.

This family’s story resonates amongst the thousands of veterans who come home shunned by the war; and those who stay behind and remain heroes.

Supporting Our Troops

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by Brooke Goodson

John Heathcock, 67, from Alpharetta, Ga., is no stranger to the hostility shown towards soldiers in controversial wars. Having served in the Army during the Vietnam War in 1968, Heathcock understands the importance of supporting U.S. troops no matter how unpopular a war may be.

“I was definitely shocked to see the disrespect people had for soldiers,” said Heathcock about his return home from Vietnam. “Protestors would spit at us if we walked by in our uniforms.” Heathcock and his fellow soldiers were told where they could, and could not wear their uniform when they got back to the U.S.

Having experienced a taste of disrespect, he has no patience for those who protest at soldiers’ funerals. “Soldiers are simply doing what they are asked to do,” said Heathcock. “Our troops are the ones protecting this country; without them people might not have the right to protest.”

Heathcock lost many close to him in the Vietnam War, and feels this type of protesting should never happen, and is not acceptable. “They are risking their lives each and everyday for our country,” Heathcock said.

Heathcock, however, is pleased to say that he does feel that today is a different situation. Even though he believes that the Iraq War is still a very controversial issue, soldiers are shown much more respect than before. “Supporting our troops is of the up-most importance,” said Heathcock. “They deserve a hell of a lot respect.”

Honoring Their Sacrifices

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by Anna Hill

On an unexpectedly hot Memorial Day, Fort Macon State Park in Atlantic Beach, N.C., was crowded with hundreds of locals and tourists there to see a structure that once defended the South against the Union.

With construction beginning in 1826, the fort has been used during the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, World War II, and was even used as a federal prison. As a result, Fort Macon has become a site with a deep history. Even before entering the gate, one has a sense of the action that occurred within its walls.

The iron gates covering the windows and the war-torn give one the opportunity to imagine what live was like hundreds of years ago.

Working as both a Ranger and Historic Site Manager, Paul Branch was set to give the musket firing demonstration in honor of Memorial Day. Throughout the presentation, his enthusiasm was obvious, as was his interest in our country’s history. He immediately told the crowd that his goal was to inform our citizens as to how America became, as Branch noted, “the greatest nation in the world.”

Although Branch did not serve in the military, his passion is inevitable. “It is our veterans and our men and women in uniform throughout the world and throughout history that have brought this country where is it,” Branch said. “Our honor is to them for all of their sacrifices.”
After just a short conversation, the amount of respect and admiration he has for our troops is enormous.

After 30 years of working at Fort Macon, Branch’s impact is clear; and one can only imagine the number of citizens he has successfully enlightened in regards to our country’s history.

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