Robins community pays tribute to fallen military, civilian personnel

ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE — While a gentle rain fell outside, about 450 Robins Air Force Base workers, family, friends and civic leaders jammed the base chapel Thursday morning to pay tribute to fallen military and civilian members of Team Robins.

Although the 45-minute service was moved from its customary camellia garden location, the change did not dampen the pomp, pageantry and passion as the base community remembered workers who left their mark on the giant installation.

Thursday’s Camellia Garden Memorial service added 66 names to the 1,516 already enshrined on the garden’s memorial wall. The Middle Georgia Camellia Society and the Warner Robins Chamber of Commerce partnered with Robins in 1976 to establish the garden and inaugurate the annual ceremony.

The agenda included posting of the colors by the Robins Honor Guard, a bagpipe rendition of “Amazing Grace” by Master Sgt. Janis Thrift and a patriotic anthem by the chapel chancel choir. The program culminated with the reading of each name followed by the solemn sounding of a bell.

Maj. Gen. Polly Peyer, commander of the Warner Robins Air Logistics Center at Robins, noted two of the names on the memorial list — William Miller and John Edward Washburn.

“William Miller was a radio operator at the battle of Iwo Jima,” she said. “Staff Sgt. John Edward Washburn had 47 missions on a B-24 during World War II and was later a prisoner of war.”

Those men made notable contributions, she pointed out, but so did the others on the list.

“There is a saying,” Peyer told the crowd. “I believe it was by a Vietnam veteran: ‘All gave some and some gave all.’ Certainly those associated with Robins have given their all.”

Col. Debra Bean, the 78th Air Base Wing vice commander, noted that Thursday’s crowd was “wonderfully diverse” — uniformed members of the armed forces, Defense Department civilians, contractors, community officials, family and friends of the former Robins workers.

“But for one hour, for this ceremony, we are all one group,” she said.

“We are the Robins Team family. And I hope the ones grieving and remembering are comforted and strengthened knowing they are in the presence of family.”

Bean said remembering past contributions strengthens those who are serving today.

“It reminds us that what we are doing is important, that serving the nation is important, that our work is good and valuable.”

The vice commander said remembering the value of service never gets old.

“It strengthens us to go forward to serve better and more honorably than we have,” Bean concluded.