Usually, it is standing room only in the Emma Kelly Theater each year when the American Legion Dexter Allen Post 90 hosts its annual Memorial Day observance ceremonies. But this time, the auditorium was as empty as the unoccupied chair on stage that represents the Missing Man. The current COVID-19 pandemic prevented a crowd from attending, but the dedication to honoring all men and women who have fallen in times of our nation’s wars was clear to see on the stage.
The Statesboro Herald filmed the ceremony Friday, which aired on Monday, Memorial Day, at 11 a.m. at www.statesboroherald.com, as well as on the Herald’s Facebook page and the Averitt Center’s website and Facebook page.
The program, which followed a wreath-laying ceremony featuring local memorials at Statesboro City Hall’s Eternal Flame, Triangle Park and the Bulloch County Judicial Annex, featured keynote speaker Lonnie Ellis, a past Post 90 commander and longtime American Legion member.
Ellis, who penned a compilation of poems inspired by his military experiences (“War and Peace and Poetry”), is a 26-year member of the American Legion, a Marine combat veteran of the Gulf War and Army veteran who served during Operation Iraqi Freedom. A Bulloch County native, he is currently employed with a company used by the U.S. government to shuttle people to recruitment and military events and training.
Ellis spoke about soldiers he has known, or would have liked to know, whom he would imagine being in the audience if alive.
He referred to “the debt we owe for those who paid the ultimate price,” their lives, for freedom. Taking listeners back in his memory to a time when he and his young son were visiting Washington, D.C., and the Vietnam Memorial, Ellis talked about etching the name of his cousin, Alton E. Ellis, from the wall. His son asked about a real-life character in the movie “We Were Soldiers,” who died in the Vietnam War.
“I was moved that a 10-year-old boy realized the sacrifices made for this great nation. It was a powerful moment.”
Ellis recalled a soldier friend he knew when stationed in Illinois. That man was killed in action — a man who “planned to be a police officer, willing to put his life on the line for his country, and lost his life.”
“This is the kind of people we send to these wars.”
With emotion in his voice, Ellis said, “We can’t give them enough credit for all of the things they do.”
Another friend was killed by a suicide bomber as he delivered books to schoolchildren in a war zone. Ellis reminded others of Bulloch County’s own Sgt. Brock Chavers,”who gave his very life, left his loved ones who raised him” to fight and die for his country.
“We inspired him, and he inspired us.”
Bulloch County resident Staff Sgt. Chester McBride was also one of Ellis’ memories. Killed in the Air Force, McBride “had been accepted by the FBI.”
“He never got the opportunity.”
There were others Ellis knew and served with who are no longer here, he said. There is no way to repay the ones who lost their lives, except to continue “making small installments” by saluting, reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, and keeping the memories alive by observing the true reason for Memorial Day, not just another holiday for cookouts and fun.
“Millions of lives have been lost in defense of this nation so we could pursue our dreams,” he said “These men and women know this, yet they continue to sign up.”
American Legion Dexter Allen Post 90 members also involved in the program were Marvin Grimm, post commander, who gave the welcome and introduced Ellis; Charles “Skip” Campbell, senior vice commander, who led the Pledge of Allegiance; Barb Thames, vice commander and chaplain, who gave opening and closing prayers and intoned the names of Bulloch County’s fallen soldiers from World War II Pacific, the Korean War, the Vietnam War and current hostilities; and Bob Marsh, treasurer, who intoned the names of fallen Bulloch County soldiers in World War I and World War II Atlantic.
The event was sponsored by Joiner-Anderson Funeral Home and Memorial Gardens and the Averitt Center for the Arts.
Herald reporter Holli Deal Saxon may be reached at (912) 489-9414.