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A moving tribute to veterans

By Kay S. Pedrotti Plenty of hugs, many tears and an abundance of patriotism filled the Barnesville Civic Center last week when 58 World War II veterans and spouses were honored by the Barnesville Rotary Club. SIDE NOTE: Junior Hamrick, commander of the local VFW Club, reports Veterans Day will be observed in Barnesville on November 12 in that November 11 falls on a Sunday this year. The observance will begin at 11 a.m. at the Veterans Memorial on Thomaston Street at the library. More details to follow… Cars and buses entered the parking lot under a huge United States flag held aloft by ladder trucks of the Barnesville-Lamar County and Pike County fire departments. Military, law enforcement and fire officers lined the entranceway at attention as the veterans were escorted into the center. A welcome by Rotary president Phillip Bell noted ‘Georgia’s longest-serving veteran and at 64 years the senior public servant in the country,’ Pete Wheeler, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Veterans Services, would be the featured speaker. Leon Ross’ bagpipe processional set a tone that echoed through the proceedings. Lamar County Comprehensive High School Junior ROTC, led by Maj. Paul Stinson, brought in the U.S. and Georgia flags to be set before a capacity crowd of hands-on-hearts and salutes. The ROTC and Rotarians served a barbecue lunch to all veterans. Wheeler’s remarks included ‘a message from the flag.’ Speaking as if he were Old Glory, Wheeler asked, ‘Do you remember when everybody took off their hats and put their hands over their hearts when I came by, leading every parade? What happened? I’m the same old flag, with a few new stars and more blood shed for freedom, but now I see a lot of people with their hands in their pockets. Don’t they remember what I stand for and where I’ve been? Do they remember the honor rolls of those who never came back to keep the republic free?’ He also added, ‘If we love anything more than freedom, we’ll lose it.’ Wheeler concluded, ‘Our thanks, prayers and wishes for a safe return go with all those who serve in uniform around the globe.’ Bell commented that Tom Brokaw, in his book The Greatest Generation ‘couldn’t have been more spot-on than he was when he said the World War II generation was a bright light to the world in a time of great darkness.’ He added, ‘We cannot do enough to thank you and let you know what you mean to us.’ Barnesville Mayor Peter Banks presented a proclamation from the city honoring Wheeler, who has served under 12 Georgia governors. County commissioner Charles Glass handled the sound and video, including choruses of anthems representing each branch of the military. Other participants included All Lipphardt, Georgia VFW junior vice commander, Pledge of Allegiance; Hayward Cox, invocation; and benediction, Dr. Ed Cliburn. At the end of the program, Wheeler let the audience know a very important ‘soldier’ of World War II found his way to the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. — the ubiquitous Kilroy. ’If you get to the memorial,’ Wheeler said, ‘he’s peeking over where you go into the back to get to the wiring. Go see him. He was everywhere in World War II.’

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