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Veterans’ Day Smalltown America

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Cairo High School NJROTC in waiting for posting colors

I knew our friend Jesse Hobby (ret. Major, U.S.Army) would be “calling the colors” for the Veterans’ Day ceremony at the courthouse, November 10. I knew my favorite band, The Cairo Syrupmaker Band, would be playing. Good reasons for going. Actually, regardless of who was doing what, I wanted to take this opportunity to be openly patriotic with fellow townspeople. It was a freedom I wanted to claim. But I didn’t know the speaker would be someone so dear to my heart.

It was nice and chilly that day but sunny by time to go downtown. I parked at First Baptist Church a few blocks away preferring to get a little walk in and not hassle with blocked off streets. Five cars waiting at a light is heavy traffic in Cairo and you don’t want that. All along Broad Street, both sides, U.S. flags snapped merrily. By the time I arrived at the crowded courthouse lawn I was cool enough that a seat in the sun was inviting.

Linda Johnson of UNB Bank in her usual cheerful and bright manner gave small US flags to each spectator as well as bottles of water, a very welcome gift. Programs were being distributed also, compliments of Family Worship Center. Somehow, however, I missed being at the right place to get one. So I was still ignorant of who the speaker would be.

Third graders from all schools sat in happy groups on the lawn. Their enthusiasm for the morning away from school was obvious, but their energy was in respectful control. Behind the children the band members stood ready, brass instruments gleaming in the sun. I had a wave of nostalgia remembering my blonde headed son, William, playing baritone (flugabone) in the Syrupmaker Band. Across the street the Zebulon Theater marquee invited veterans to view for free the movie “Thank You For Your Service.” I enjoyed conversations with my friend Betty sitting beside me. Nice to find a friend to share a special occasion with. I spotted Evelyn Bishop on the front row and went to speak to her and her friend Joyce. Evelyn isn’t getting out much these days but, frail or not, she simply would be at the Veterans Day celebration being the loyal military widow that she is.

I sat back and gazed on the beautiful Grady County Courthouse.

Squinting my eyes just slightly I tried to envision the old courthouse with its bell tower. That building burned one night in 1980. There was an ugly space in our town for what seemed like a long time until the new one was erected in keeping with the structures of the Roddenbery Memorial Library and the old Post Office and a suitable columned edifice to stand behind the large oak tree. A beautiful magnolia is becoming stately to take the place of the one ruined by the fire. I smiled at the memory of the year our town provided snow on the courthouse lawn and our grandchildren slid and threw snowballs for a glorious two hours.

I pulled my attention back to the porch where, behind the handsome white columns, the dignitaries of the day sat looking solemn, ready to do their part–Ray Prince, Johnny Moore, Wayne McDonald and the speaker. This would have been a good time for me to recognize who he was. But I didn’t. I did notice that he looked very distinguished in a short beard, maybe even nicely robust befitting a retired military officer.

The ceremonies began. We all stood as Jesse in his voice of military authority, “called the colors.” Jesse, who can be quite humorous, told me he was chosen for that job because he has a lot of volume. It was good he had volume because the flag bearers were around out of sight on the north side of the building. Hearing their orders, the uniformed veterans marched forth behind a bag piper and formed a straight line in front of us. Flags of all the branches of armed forces as well as the coast guard rippled in a gentle breeze. The Cairo High School NJROTC presented flags for our giving the pledge of allegiance and for the band’s playing “The Star Spangled Banner.” As we pledged our allegiance to the United States of America I felt a surge of pride and gratitude for my country and for my town. I remembered my grandson, Charles Douglas Reeves, enjoying so much his experiences as a member of the CHS NJROTC and was thankful to those who provide that program.

Every segment of the program was touching and inspiring–the invocation by Reverend Wayne McDonald, remarks by Ray Prince, Chairman Grady County Board of Commissioners, and by emcee Johnny Moore, aka “Pastor Johnny.” I loved the presentation by American Legion Post 122 to the POW/MIA, complete with very poignant symbols such as a straight backed chair tilted against a small table, indicative of someone “not here.”

The speaker was being introduced. Wait a minute. Jeffrey TODD McDonald? Could that be Todd? Our own Todd who grew up with our son William? He and William studied together at our house poring over their math and science. They played tennis with each other, enjoyed sleepovers, practiced long hours for band performances. I blinked and looked again. It had been a long time, maybe fifteen years, since I’d seen him.

But, yes, it was Todd. He was no longer the slight young man whose image I carried in my head. He was this distinguished Lt. Colonel with a beard but the same winning voice expressing eloquently his gratitude for his hometown, his country, his freedom, and his opportunity to serve. Telling us about his tour in Iraq which, he said, taught him a new and profound appreciation for his own country. He reminded us of the many rights, both large and small, our service men give up so we may enjoy our many rights. I know his father, Wayne McDonald, seated there nearby must have been bursting with pride. Because I was filled with pride myself with no relationship ties except that he was my son’s friend, that he was a Cairo boy, that I knew him back when I could ply him with peanut butter sandwiches.

The presentation of a memorial wreath for Gold Star Mothers, mothers of fallen soldiers, was followed by a profound silence as the wreath was being placed. The only sounds, (and remember those many third graders were sitting on the lawn), were those of the flags snapping crisply and a creak or two from folding chairs as folks twisted to see.

Needless to add, I was ever so glad I had gone downtown for the Veterans’ Day ceremonies. When we stood for the Moores’ singing of “God Bless the USA,” a spontaneous rising with our little flags waving, I was never prouder to be a citizen of our beloved United States of America and of our small town named Cairo.

Thank you, Veterans, for your service and sacrifice!

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