Watch Studio Statesboro segment on the Veterans Day observance at the Averitt Center. Click on link:
A roomful of military veterans rose from their seats Friday and together performed a resounding rendition of “God Bless the U.S.A” during the 2011 Veteran's Day Community Service program, sponsored by the American Legion Dexter Allen Post 90.
The spontaneous performance served as a kick-off to the annual event hosted by the Emma Kelley Theater in the Averitt Center for the Arts.
This year, the occasion commemorated a very special moment for the military brethren.
“I have been waiting five years to say this,” said American Legion Post 90 Commander Dan Foglio introducing the program. “Veterans Day is on the eleventh hour, of the eleventh day, in the eleventh month and eleventh year — there!”
The specific date and hour pays tribute to a watershed moment in American history. During World War I, German forces agreed to a cease-fire and signed an official armistice at 5 a.m. on November 11, 1918. The treaty took effect six hours later, on the "eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month," as the saying goes — and the world knew peace once again.
Exactly 93 years later, veterans across the country, and those in the Emma Kelly Theater, were honored for their service.
“Veterans Day is a time to honor all who have served in the U.S. armed forces,” Foglio said. “Those who sworn their lives and those who have paid the ultimate price share a bond few others can understand. They will always have one thing in common: they fought the good fight, and they kept America free.”
The patriotic program included music, words of honor and appreciation for veterans, and shared memories from those who served.
Burton “Hawkeye” Higgins, 92, a retired major with the United States Army who served in World War II, was chosen as keynote speaker for the event.
Higgins, a member of the Medical Administrative Corps, regaled the crowd with stories from his stint in the army, specifically tales from the North African Campaign in 1943-44.
Then a second lieutenant, Higgins was stationed in multiple hospitals that followed the Western Task Force, commanded by Major General Georgia S. Patton, as it advanced during the invasion of North Africa.
Though, the mission came as a surprise to those undertook it, he said.
“We took off from New York, and everyone thought we were going to England. Everyone was really excited,” Higgins said. “Then, [army officials] said: ‘Forget about England, you’re going to Casablanca, North Africa, and you’re going to take care of George Patton’s troops.”
Higgins’ hospital, which was a collection of tents housed in fields and acquired buildings, assisted Patton’s army in Casablanca, Morocco, Sicily and Naples, among other locales.
The medical corps moved alongside Patton’s army to Northern France, where each participated in the “Battle of the Bulge.”
“It was something else. What you have read or heard was minor compared to the conditions up there,” Higgins said. “The weather was cold, it was snowing, and our hospital had many hurt men. It was really a bad situation.”
The army major choked up, as he remembered witnessing the moments that sealed an American victory.
“One day we got word to pack up; that the Germans were overrunning us,” he said. “Well, the next morning, the sun came out; and you never saw so many planes in your life flying over. The thing changed right there. It wasn’t long until Patton had them on the run.”
After the program ended, Higgins was presented with a plaque from the American Legion for his service.
Foglio also presented veterans with tickets for a free meal at RJ's Steaks and Seafood as a token of appreciation.
The program was supported by American Legion, Kiwanis Club of Statesboro, Averitt center for the Arts, Joiner-Anderson Funeral Home, Chic-Fil-A of Statesboro, McAlister’s Deli, and RJ’s Steaks and Seafood.
Jeff Harrison can be reached at 912-489-9454