“I think it’s thanking all the people who fought in a war,” said Sam Payne, age 9. “Yep, thanking them for fighting for freedom.”
The Scouts led a crowd of more than 60 people in the Pledge of Allegiance as the ceremony opened.
Children and their parents, retirees and veterans populated the crowd. They listened as the Rev. Michael Burgess, Heflin City Councilman Elvin Henson and finally state Sen. Gerald Dial talked about their time in the military.
Dial, who served in the Alabama National Guard for 36 years, thanked the veterans in the crowd and also recognized those who didn’t make it home for their service.
“I see the names on this wall of the people who served and didn’t come back,” Dial said. “I’m just thankful of the many people who made that sacrifice.”
He reminded the people gathered that all over the country, people were standing in front of walls just like the one in Heflin.
“This country is great for one reason,” Dial said. “It’s because of men and women who have made the sacrifice to defend the freedom that we enjoy.”
More than 400,000 veterans call Alabama home, about 10 percent of the population, Dial said. The population at the service reflected that statistic, and as veterans were invited to introduce themselves, one after another came forward.
Allen Turner, 94, a World War II Army veteran, spoke from his car. His experiences in the service showed him how great this country is, he said.
“It made me appreciate America,” Turner said.
Many of the veterans said their time in the military was an important influence on their lives.
“I am absolutely positive that the time I spent in the United States Marine Corps taught me what I needed to know about discipline, about commitment, about honor, in short, what it is to be a true disciple of our Lord, Jesus Christ,” said Burgess, pastor of the Heflin First United Methodist Church.
Councilman Henson joined the Army in 1953 at 17, he said. He served in Virginia and Greenland and got his first look at New York City while he was in the service. When he finished his contract, Henson attended college on the G.I. Bill, bought a house and worked at the Anniston Army Depot, he said.
“I got to travel. I had job training. It learnt me how to be a man, learnt me responsibility, guaranteed me a job and a career,” Henson said. “I think it’s one of the best things in the world I ever did.”
Staff writer Laura Camper: 256-235-3545. On Twitter @LCamper_Star.