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'Always a soldier'

'Always a soldier'

'Always a soldier'

Harry Raith, 89, a U.S. Army veteran ...

A community tribute to Bulloch County residents who lost their lives in past wars brought patriotic emotion to the forefront Monday in recognition of Memorial Day.
    Several community members took part in the program held at Emma Kelly Theater in the Averitt Center for the Arts, including local dignitaries, veterans and military personnel. The keynote speaker was Army Lt. Col. William Roberts of Georgia Southern University’s ROTC.
    “This may be the most important thing each of us does this year,” he said to the crowd, referring to honoring the memory of fallen soldiers as he launched into the history behind observance of Memorial Day.
    While Veterans Day, observed in November, honors all veterans of wars, Memorial Day is set aside to remember those who died while serving their country.
    “It’s difficult to determine the origin of the day,” he said, adding that a combination of origins is likely.
    Once also called “Decoration Day,” the tradition is based on Southern women placing flowers on graves of fallen soldiers.
    The first official observance was May 30, 1868, when flowers were placed on Confederate and Union soldiers’ graves at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.
    Roberts also spoke of sacrifices made in serving the country.
    “Being a soldier is an affair of the heart,” he said. “Once a soldier, always a soldier. There is a special bond between the men and women who have served together.”
    He spoke of the spirit of honor and dedication owned by those in the military.
    “I am amazed at the bravery … being shown by current members of the Armed Forces,” Roberts said.
    He cited several acts of bravery by soldiers who gave their lives answering the call of duty and read excerpts from a letter written by a soldier who died in Iraq. The letter, found on his laptop computer and meant for his girlfriend in case he died, was moving and reflected the honor and integrity of him and others who serve.
    “He said he was there (in Iraq) to help people live like we do,” Roberts said. Like so many who died in past wars, soldiers who are currently defending our freedom “... carry on a proud tradition.”
    Fallen soldiers “served in dirty, dangerous and foreign situations,” he said. “They served anyway, they did their best, they did their jobs. In the course of serving their country, they lost their lives.”
    In his speech, Roberts pointed out the various freedoms U.S. citizens have, thanks to those who fought in past and recent wars, and asked the audience to reflect on what freedom means to each.
    “We live in America – a land with freedoms bought and paid for by the lives of many patriots,” he said.
    He also spoke of a way of life preserved and protected by soldiers.
    “In America, we have opportunities that are unparalleled in the history of the world,” Roberts said.
    The program, led by master of ceremonies Dan Foglio, was hosted by the American Legion Dexter Allen Post 90, of which Foglio is a past commander.
    Several officers with the post participated in the program, which also featured short presentations by Judge William J. Neville, state Sen. Jack Hill (R-Reidsville), Statesboro Mayor Joe Brannen, Statesboro City Councilman Phil Boyum and others.
    Music preceding the program was provided by Bill Coen, of Statesboro First Baptist Church, who sang old standards and patriotic songs. During the program, names of fallen Bulloch County veterans of wars, World War I to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, were intoned by various local veterans.
    The event was sponsored by Joiner Anderson Funeral Home, Averitt Center for the Arts and
    Holli Deal Bragg may be reached at (912) 489-9414.

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