A veteran of two wars and two branches of the military, Lonnie Ellis plans to tell listeners at the Veterans Day observance Wednesday that “Veterans Day isn’t simply for veterans.”
A musical prelude, featuring the Georgia Southern University Student Brass Quintet directed by Dr. Stephanie Furry, will begin at 10:30 a.m. in the Emma Kelly Theater at the Averitt Center for the Arts in downtown Statesboro. Ellis, the commander of American Legion Dexter Allen Post 90, is keynote speaker for the main program at 11 a.m.
“While we’re in the process of honoring all those who have served, we also want to recognize the mothers and fathers who raised their children and taught them patriotism, the love of country, and taught them to step forward in a time of need when the country calls,” Ellis said, “and Veterans Day is a day to honor veterans’ families who support them, their spouses and their children.”
Ellis was installed as commander of Post 90 in July. The American Legion hosts the Veterans Day observance, free to the public, each year with help from other sponsors. These now include Joiner-Anderson Funeral Home, the Averitt Center, Chick-fil-A and the Bulloch County Historical Society. Perennial lead organizer Dan Foglio, Post 90 senior vice commander, will give opening remarks and lead a salute to the services.
Twice to Iraq
Ellis, who grew up in Statesboro, enlisted in the Marine Corps from 1989 until 1993 and became a veteran, the first time, with Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. Regularly stationed in North Carolina, he served with the 8th Marines and was deployed for the 1990-91 action in which a United States-led coalition retook Kuwait after it was invaded by Iraqi forces under President Saddam Hussein. Ground combat, Ellis notes, lasted about 100 hours.
After leaving the Marine Corps, Ellis moved to Illinois and joined the American Legion there more than 20 years ago. He was commander of Post 463 in Roanoke, Illinois, for three years, and also served as a district commander.
Approaching his 38th birthday and after 15 years as a civilian, Ellis joined the U.S. Army in 2008. He then deployed to Iraq from December 2009 until December 2010 with the 5th Squadron, 7th Cavalry Regiment out of Fort Stewart. First at Forward Operating Base Falcon near Baghdad, he was detached to Joint Security Station Doura. He was in charge of fueling Humvees, tanks and other vehicles.
While in Iraq, Ellis wrote a book, “War and Peace and Poetry,” published through Trafford Publishing in 2010. He left the Army as a sergeant in 2013 and returned to Statesboro. Now, in addition to serving as Post 90 commander, he is the American Legion’s Georgia 1st District junior vice commander. He is also a life member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars.
Names on a wall
For Wednesday’s program, Ellis may read one or two of his poems and talk about various ways that veterans have been honored, in monuments and songs, for instance, over the years. A key example he mentions is a song that refers to a monument, “More than a Name on a Wall,” recorded by the Statler Brothers in 1989.
When Ellis and his children visited the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., in 2006, his son, then 10, asked his father to help him find the name of Pfc. Jimmy Nakayama. A real soldier killed in the war, Nakayama was depicted in the movie “We Were Soldiers” as having died the day before his own son was born.
“That made a pretty powerful impact on a 10-year-old,” Ellis said.
They also found the name of Ellis’ cousin, Alton Ellis of Florida, who died in combat in 1969.
Often the American Legion has invited a veteran or service member who is not an officer of the local post to speak on Veterans Day. But Ellis says it is important for the American Legion and VFW to speak for themselves from time to time to make their advocacy for veterans known.
Other people with roles in Wednesday’s observance include Post 90 Chaplain Charles Williams, Adjutant Bob Marsh, Judge Joe Neville and several other veterans, plus representatives of the Averitt Center, the Statesboro Kiwanis Club and the Daughters of the American Revolution.
Again, the event is Wednesday, not Monday. Anyone trying to move Veterans Day from Nov. 11 to the nearest Monday would face opposition from the American Legion and other groups.
Named Veterans Day since 1954, it was originally Armistice Day, marking the armistice that ended World War I on the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918. The ceasefire officially took effect at 11 a.m.
Congress tried reassigning Veterans Day permanently to a Monday in the early 1970s, but was soon persuaded to change it back.
“We believe that Veterans Day should be celebrated on Veterans Day,” Ellis said. “It should not be used to gain a three-day or four-day weekend.”
Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.