Vietnam veteran Robert Gibbons looked sharp in his American Legion Post 507 uniform, joining about 200 other folks who gathered on the G Street side of the Old Courthouse in Brunswick for the city’s annual Memorial Day ceremony.
Larry E. Lawrence was there too. So was Allen J. Grovner, Samuel Proctor Jr. and Willis Wood — their names etched in stone at the War Memorial to local military veterans who paid the ultimate sacrifice in service to country. All four men fought and died in Vietnam, but Gibbons did not need to read their names on the stone to know they were present.
“They are looking down upon us now,” said Gibbons, then a U.S. Army machine gunner and now a pastor at Brunswick Church of Christ. “They are saying, ‘Well done.’”
Glynn County’s Chief Magistrate Judge Alex Atwood was honored during the ceremony as the 2017 American Patriot Award recipient, presented by the Veterans Council of the Golden Isles. A Marine veteran with 34 years of active and reserve duty service, Atwood accepted the award with a gracious reminder of the day’s real meaning.
That meaning would be to honor guys like Ralph A. Hodges and Gerald Singleterry, local men whose names are etched in the War Memorial’s stone honoring the seven local veterans who died fighting in Korea.
“You do have my sincere and humble thanks,” said Atwood, also a former state representative. “I feel truly unworthy, especially when I think about what is the real reason we are here today. And that is to honor the fallen.”
The event’s guest speaker was Maj. Austin C. Fletcher, a Marine presently stationed at Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay in St. Marys. A veteran of Afghanistan and Iraq, Fletcher spent most of his time at the podium asking the crowd to remember Naval Petty Officer 3rd Class John T. “Doc” Fralish and Marine Private 1st Class Matthew Bertolino. Both men served in the platoon Fletcher commanded in Afghanistan; both men died in combat over a span of three days in February 2006.
Add their names to the long prayer list for men and women who have died in the service of our country, from Lexington and Concord in 1776 to Afghanistan and Iraq in the 21st Century, Fletcher said.
“I think this day has been brought about solely to pay honor to the over one million men and women who have given their lives in the service of this country over the last 243 years,” he said.
Representatives of numerous local American Legion and VFW Posts, as well as other veterans groups, presented wreaths and salutes at the memorial. The memorial features several granite blocks, each paying tribute to local veterans who fought and died overseas, from World War I to present.
Vietnam veteran James Williams also turned out Monday in his Post 507 American Legion uniform. Williams still feels the gap left in his family and his home town by deaths of the four Vietnam veterans mentioned above. Proctor and Grovner, in fact, were his cousins.
“They fought to preserve the freedom of everybody,” he said. “So today we honor all of those who did not come back.”
A past recipient of the Veterans Council’s Patriot Award, Gibbons also gave the ceremony’s opening and closing benedictions. Gibbons closed with a simple plea.
“We just pray, father, that we remember those who have fallen.”