CONYERS - A large crowd of veterans and their families attended the Veterans Day program at the Walk of Heroes Veterans War Memorial at Black Shoals Park Monday. This year was the 100th anniversary of the Veterans Day holiday since it originally began in 1919 as Armistice Day.

Speakers for the event included U.S. Sen. David Perdue, U.S. Rep. Hank Johnston, State Rep. Vernon Jones, Rockdale Commission Chair Oz Nesbitt Sr., and Rockdale County Sheriff Eric Levett. Brigadier General Randall V. Simmons Jr., Assistant Adjutant General, Georgia Army National Guard, was the keynote speaker.

The program began at 11 a.m. with a call to order by Tommy Clack, president of the Walk of Heroes, and a 21-second “Moment of Silence” for The Unknown Soldier.

The Georgia National Guard Youth ChalleNGe Color Guard from Ft. Gordon in Augusta presented the colors, and Jim Bledsoe of the Ga. Vietnam Vets/Legacy Vets Motorcycle Club led the Pledge of Allegiance. Mark Elliott of Conyers First United Methodist Church sang the National Anthem, and Pastor Winston Menzies of Greater Grace Church in Covington gave the invocation.

Sheriff Levett welcomed everyone to the program and said Veterans Day is always special to him because he comes from a family that has served this country.

“I know I would not be here today, and I know none of us would be in our positions today, if we didn’t have those brave men and women who went before and sacrificed their lives and dedicated their life to serve this great country,” he said. “So I am truly grateful for each and every one of you that have served and are still serving, and those who have served and gone on.”

Chairman Nesbitt introduced Laura Sistrunk of Piedmont Healthcare. He noted that she is the wife of a disabled veteran, and announced that Piedmont Healthcare is opening an Urgent Care location on Dogwood Drive, in the old Wells Fargo Bank directly across from the IHOP near Walmart.

“They will be opening this location in December,” he said. “This location will prioritize veterans to the front of the line, so you never have to leave the community to receive urgent health care.”

Sistrunk and Nesbitt’s announcement received a standing ovation from the veterans and their families.

Rep. Vernon Jones said Veterans Day is also his father’s birthday, and noted that his father served under General George Patton in World War II.

“This is a very special day because freedom is not free, and those of you who have worn the uniform and those of you who are currently wearing the uniform have protected our freedom,” said Jones. “We’re the greatest country on earth. My father, when he served in World War II in Germany, he met people from all over the world, and America was the envy of the world. Why? Because we had freedom to live, freedom to take care of our families, freedom of education, freedom of speech, all those freedoms that many of us take for granted. My dad, and many others, fought to preserve that.”

Johnson noted that if people aren’t prepared to go to battle to protect the freedoms they enjoy in this country, then they don’t really deserve to be free.

“Freedom is a part of our DNA in America and it is something that we will stand and fight for every day of the week, every month of the year, and every year,” he said. “Our adversaries know that. We need to continue to have men and women who serve us in the armed forces. When our men and women pledge themselves to protect the nation; the nation pledges itself to take care of those folks when they return home. So today while we honor our heroes, we must always keep in mind that there is much that we can do to honor them by fulfilling the promises we’ve made to our veterans and to their families, especially for those veterans and their family members who are still with us today.”

Sen. Perdue said veterans and their families have made great sacrifices to keep America safe and free.

“As Americans, we have a responsibility to uphold the commitments we made to our veterans, and it’s a job I take very seriously,” said Perdue. “This Veterans Day, I particularly want to thank my partner in the Senate, Sen. Johnny Isakson. As a veteran himself, Johnny has led the charge to improve efficiency and accountability at the VA. His efforts are making a difference for veterans across the country. The Department of Veterans Affairs has removed over 8,000 bureaucrats for not doing their jobs, and we’ve allowed veterans to seek out private medical care if they are unable to get it at the VA. I join all Georgians in saluting those who have answered the call to serve, both past and present.”

BG Simmons noted that Veterans Day is one of America’s most sacred national holidays, and thanked veterans and their families for their sacrifices.

“My remarks are all about saying thank you to our veterans, and to our Vietnam veterans: welcome home,” he said. “Veteran status may only extend to the service member, but it takes a village to make a veteran successful. Family members and loved ones of our service members also serve and make tremendous sacrifices for those they love.

“Those of us still serving can’t go anywhere in uniform without people going out of their way to thank us for our service. That’s because we wear our service on the outside in the form of our nation’s cloth - the uniform. But for our family members and veterans no longer serving, you tend to blend in, going unnoticed and unrecognized. So to our veterans here today, your service will never be forgotten or taken for granted. Our generation, as well as future generations, owe you a tremendous debt of gratitude for the strong foundation of military service you helped build.

“Likewise, the family members of our service members are often overlooked, because you wear your service on the inside. There is no uniform that identifies you as a military parent, spouse, sibling or child. But today, we’ll take another moment to thank you for the incredible sacrifices you make to enable our service.”

Simmons also complimented the Walk of Heroes board of directors on the Veterans War Memorial.

“I have to comment on this tremendous park,” said Simmons. “I’ve been to many events like this, and I can’t say that I’ve seen another one in the country as nice as this one. Thank you for your vision and your inspiration.”

Jason Smith, director of the Newton County High School Band, played Taps, and Dr. Dave Benson, pastor of Conyers First United Methodist Church, gave the benediction. Following the program was a Flag Retirement Ceremony performed by members of the Walk of Heroes board of directors and the Boy Scouts of America, Yellow River District.

Senior Reporter

Born and raised in Decatur, Ga. Graduated from Shorter College in Rome, Ga. in 1979 with B.A. in Communications. Worked in community newspapers for 26 years. Started at Rockdale Citizen/Newton Citizen in January 2016.

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