There will be special memories for Gulf War veterans this Memorial Day.
August of 1990 marked the beginning of a war that for all practical purposes began when Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein ordered his armies to invade and occupy neighboring Kuwait. The American response was the deployment of 600,000 service members and a mission that would forever be known as Operation Desert Storm.
On Monday, more than 500 Operation Desert Storm veterans will be in Washington, D.C., to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the military operation and honor those who served and sacrificed for their country.
Former Army Spc. Greg Swearingane, who now lives in Jeffersonville, is one such veteran.
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Swearingane, who acted as a single-channel radio operator, has mixed feelings about the upcoming march.
“It’s an honor. I’m excited ... and a little nervous,” said Swearingane. “I’ve never been to Washington, D.C., before.”
Swearingane entered the Army four years prior to the Gulf War. During his time in the military, he was placed in the Army’s 20th Engineering Battalion in an area known as the “the Empty Quarter.” The battalion’s job was to provide support for other companies.
“Anything any company needed as far as engineering support, we gave to them,” Swearingane said.
The company worked on everything from communications to building trenches. Swearingane remembers his time there being like nothing he had experienced before during his time in the service.
“It was different because it was what exactly what we always trained for,” he said.
This Memorial Day, Swearingane will be on a much different mission. He and his fellow veterans will walk in the nation’s capital along the same route that service members returning from the Middle East marched 25 years ago. More than 500 service members from 35 states will be there along with members from 10 of the coalition countries, Swearingane said. The significance of the event is not lost on him.
“It’s super important. It’s a day to honor and give tribute to those who gave the ultimate sacrifice,” he said. “Those whose loved ones gave their lives would love to spend time with them, but it’s just not possible.”
Swearingane emphasized the importance of remembering veterans and their contributions to the freedoms that Americans enjoy today.
The Memorial Day march was organized by the National Desert Storm War Memorial Association and the America Veterans Center. United States Congress and President Barack Obama worked together to approve construction of the National Desert Storm War Memorial in 2014.
Swearingane spent four years in the Army and three years in the Georgia National Guard. He has been married 23 years to his wife, Tracy, and has two sons Justin, 21, and Cory, 17.
“It’s hard to believe it’s been 25 years,” Swearingane said. “I still feel like that kid that went over 25 years ago.”
Avery Braxton: 678-633-1413, firstname.lastname@example.org, @brax_avery
Memorial day events in the midstate
▪ A Memorial Day ceremony will be held Monday at 11 a.m. at Magnolia Park Cemetery at 205 South Pleasant Hill Road. Retired Air Force Lt. Col. Steve Atkins is the featured speaker. Atkins was a B-52 pilot and currently is a Junior ROTC instructor at Veterans High School. The annual ceremony is being organized this year by the Enlisted Association. For more information, call Rick Delaney at 478-284-9879.
▪ A Memorial Day ceremony will be held at 10 a.m. Monday at Macon Memorial Park. The keynote speaker is Robert Magnus, former assistant commandant of the Marine Corps. Also speaking will be Murray Greenfield, a Merchant Marine in World War II who helped transport 35,000 Jews rescued from death camps to what would become Israel. For more information contact Phil McGoldrick at 478-955-4545 .
▪ Linwood Cemetery will hold its annual Memorial Day observance at 11 a.m. Monday. The Macon Cemetery Preservation Corporation will gather in the Historic Pleasant Hill Neighborhood on Walnut Street between Pursley Street and Grant Avenue. Retired Navy Lt. David Pipes, past state commander of the VFW, will speak, and the ceremonial placing of a wreath will include the members of the 48th Brigade Infantry Charlie Medical Company.
▪ The Fort Hawkins Commission will host a ceremony at noon Monday at Fort Hill Cemetery. The remembrance at the community’s first cemetery on Short Street near Mitchell and Norris streets will be followed by a self guided tour of the cemetery. The Fort Hawkins Visitor Center and the Block House will also be open Monday for visitors. For more information contact Michael Lynch at 478-785-1777.
▪ The Carl Vinson VA Medical Center will hold its annual Memorial Day ceremony at 2 p.m. Monday in the auditorium. The speaker will be William “Bill” Dewey Freeman, who was a prisoner of war in Korea.