Middle Georgians remember fallen soldiers on Memorial Day

lfabian@macon.comMay 27, 2013 

Korean War veteran Arthur E. Sullivan Jr. put on his old U.S. Army uniform Monday, including the Purple Heart he earned Sept. 22, 1952, near Pork Chop Hill.

The 84-year old Warner Robins man, known as Gene, nearly died after getting hit by a mortar shell and hand grenade on Old Baldy, a battle where about 100 others breathed their last that night.

“So many was wounded on the mountain, you could hardly walk,” said Sullivan, who attended the Memorial Day Remembrance Program at Macon Memorial Park in their honor.

Last week, he placed flags on veterans’ graves in Centerville, a 30-year tradition.

“It’s not the men that fought with me, but it was men that died in combat, like my friends did,” he said.

Michael Clark, the national vice commandant of the Southeast Division of the Marine Corps League, says Mother’s Day 1969 plays like a video in his mind.

It was the day his buddy died right next to him as they lost 17 members of his company.

“You forever remember the days of those young men who paid the ultimate price for us to have those freedoms that we have,” Clark said in his keynote speech at Memorial Park.

Memorial Day is a solemn occasion for him, but he fears its meaning is lost on today’s generation.

“I challenge each of you to make sure your children and your grandchildren are aware of the cost of freedom,” he said in his closing remarks.

Army veteran Charles Parker, of Dry Branch, passed on the military tradition to his son.

The younger Parker is serving in the 82nd Airborne, like his dad.

“I had the honor of pinning on his wings,” Parker said before the 21-gun salute and playing of taps at the cemetery on Mercer University Drive.

Parker served in Grenada. His best buddy from boot camp fought in Vietnam and never came home.

“These were the guys who gave it all and this is to honor and respect them,” Parker said. “This brings us all together.”

Early Monday, veterans of wars from Korea to Iraq and Afghanistan gathered for breakfast at the Joseph N. Neel V.F.W. Post 3 on Thomaston Road.

An empty table with a lit candle and a rose honored prisoners of war and those missing in action.

“Those of us that served want to remember those of us who aren’t here,” said Larry McCann, who served on a submarine in the Navy from 1968 to 1975. “To serve is an honor and the sacrifice we do.”

Former Army police officer Richard Fox’s mission was on the homefront with riot control during the Vietnam War.

“Oh man, it was unreal,” he said of trying to curtail protests about the war.

As a guest of mayoral candidate C. Jack Ellis, the first female speaker of the Ugandan Parliament addressed the veterans.

“This is an important day to remember heroes and American soldiers who contribute to the peace and security of the world,” said Rebecca A. Kadaga, who also thanked the wives for their sacrifice.

Patriotism and politics mixed again in Unionville at the corner of Pansy and Montpelier avenues, where candidates were invited to speak.

Jericho Road Ministry and other street outreach organizations gathered for a “feed off,” as they do each major holiday.

Pastor Margo Stewart, whose 74-year-old husband, Al, is a World War II veteran, said they minister to the forgotten veterans struggling with addiction and disabilities.

“Very few people come to this community,” Stewart said as folks were setting up a tent and podium in a convenience store parking lot. “We came together to honor the veterans and let them know we care about them.”

Across town at Fort Hill Cemetery, about four dozen people gathered in the shade where the dead from Fort Hawkins were buried beginning in 1806.

Marty Willett, the press officer and project coordinator for the Fort Hawkins Commission, pointed to a grove of 20 American flags under two tall, old cedar trees.

They represented 20 to 200 U.S. Army soldiers who died at the fort and presumably are buried in the city’s first burial ground, designated as such by the Georgia General Assembly in 1823, he said.

Willett said he hopes the Fort Hawkins Commission will one day oversee upkeep of the property, which currently has crumbling headstones and gardens of dandelions and other weeds growing on the graves.

“Despite its neglected condition, not so unlike that of this national occasion’s meaning, we are still surrounded by a serene sense of its historical importance and by the service and sacrifices of its countless veterans,” Willett said.

Soldiers from before the Civil War to the present day are buried in the Fort Hill neighborhood.

From Juliette, 94-year-old Lila Perkins traveled there with her son and daughter-in-law to try to locate the graves of Perkins’ parents.

Her father, William F. Wilkes, served in the Spanish-American War.

It’s been five decades since she buried her mother there.

She could only remember the epitaph, “At rest with Jesus,” but not the precise location or their resting place.

“I’d sure be proud to see it,” she said.

Gold Star Mother Jeannie Cox lost her son Stephen Walker in Vietnam in 1969.

Cox, who is a fixture at veterans’ events, came dressed in red, white and blue topped off with a sequined cap of a bald eagle.

“I’m going to honor my veterans, because my veterans mean everything in the world to me,” Cox said. “They’re in my heart all the time.”

To contact staff writer Liz Fabian, call 744-4303.

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