Returning indoors to the Emma Kelly Theater at the Averitt Center for the Arts for the first time in three years, Statesboro’s Memorial Day observance organized by American Legion Dexter Allen Post 90 featured more active-duty military personnel — particularly recruiters — than many previous.
The keynote speaker, Marine 1st Lt. Cody Wooley, recently assigned to Marine Recruiting Station Columbia, 6th Marine Corps Recruiting District, in Columbia, South Carolina, was in fact one of four recruiters who appeared in speaking roles. Wooley and the two Army and one Marine Corps staff sergeants undoubtedly reduced the average age of the crowd of about 75 people who attended, and especially of the core group on stage, mostly older veterans.
Driving here, Wooley had passed through a small town and seen three or four cars parked by the side of the road and people out waving their American flags, he said.
“I couldn’t help but think to myself, I love this place, I love being a Marine, I love that flag and I love this country,” Wooley said. “There’s no other place I’d rather be.”
Now 29 and originally from Cache, Oklahoma, Wooley has been a Marine for six years and said he has many more to go, making a career of it. He acknowledged that, unlike many of the veterans onstage and some in the audience, he has not been touched firsthand by the death of a peer. He said he hopes he never has to know such a firsthand loss.
But he added that the danger of death is part of military service and that “this ultimate sacrifice ripples through communities,” not only having a major impact on families and friends, but also touching schools, churches and entire neighborhoods.
Wooley noted some of the ways that military units and civilian communities commemorate the war dead and share their stories, from fallen comrade ceremonies held near the front lines and ramp ceremonies where flag-draped coffins are carried onto aircraft to markers and days of remembrance at home.
“We must continue to share the stories of all those who have sacrificed everything for the rest of us because fewer run to face the atrocities of war and run towards danger, few volunteer to serve knowing that death may be the outcome,” Wooley said. “As we live on, those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice can rest easy knowing that it was not all in vain, and that the grateful citizens of this wonderful country will not let them be forgotten.”
He was the last of the four active-duty service members to speak during the ceremony.
Army Staff Sgt. Brandon Langland and Staff Sgt. Adrian M. Gray both serve with the Statesboro Army Recruiting Center.
Langland read aloud General Order 11, issued by Gen. John A. Logan as commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, May 5, 1868, designating May 30, 1868, as what was at first called Decoration Day. The Grand Army of the Republic was an organization made up of U.S. Army, Navy and Marine Corps veterans of the Civil War, and so a predecessor of the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars.
“The 30th day of May, 1868 is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet churchyard in the land,” Logan’s order began.
Gray read aloud “In Flanders Fields,” the poem composed in May 1915 on a World War I battlefield in Belgium by Lt. Col. John McCrae, a Canadian physician, and often recited at Memorial Day observances.
Intoning the names
Marine Staff Sgt. Adolfo Chavero, a Marine Corps career counselor with Recruiting Station Statesboro, took part in the annual intoning of names of Bulloch County’s military service members who died in the wars of the 20th and 21st centuries. The last of six readers for the intoning, Chavero recited the names of those who died in the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars.
The other readers were American Legion Dexter Allen Post 90 veterans. Sean McLaughlin recited the names from World War I. The first listed was post namesake Dexter Allen, and some of his descendants were present and stood up. Any family members of those named were asked to stand as their names were called.
Bill Adams recited the World War II fallen warriors of the Atlantic Theater of operations; Gary Martin, those from World War II in the Pacific. John Daube intoned the Korean War names, and Randy Brigman, those from the Vietnam War.
Post 90 Commander Lonnie Ellis was away because of a death in his family. So Senior Vice Commander Charles “Skip” Campbell gave the welcome and led the Pledge of Allegiance, and post Finance Officer Bob Marsh acted as master of ceremonies. The Bulloch County Sheriff’s Office Honor Guard posted the flags.
Averitt Center Executive Director Rahn Hutcheson not only welcomed attendances on behalf of the arts center, he also led the crowd in singing the National Anthem near the beginning of the ceremony and “God Bless America” at the end. Robert Cottle, Averitt Center executive artistic associate, played a half hour medley of patriotic music on the piano before the speaking program began, and Post 90 Chaplain Barbara Thames led the opening and closing prayers.
Gary Martin, the post’s junior vice commander and unopposed nominee to be its next commander, said he thought that the recruiters’ participation as active-duty personnel added something.
He also indicated that he wants the long-established local veterans’ groups to do some recruiting of their own.
“I would also like to see a lot more veterans here in Statesboro consider joining the American Legion, or the VFW if they’re eligible,” Martin said. “I mean, both of those organizations do a lot for the community, and we’re always looking for new people who want an opportunity to continue to serve, and it is that, and it’s an honor.”