Boy Scouts from Munford and Talladega, fire trucks from Talladega and Waldo, three marching bands, police cars, an armored vehicle from Anniston and dozens of veterans from World War II to the current global war on terror were on hand to participate.
The ceremony was hosted by Greater Talladega Area Chamber of Commerce Director (and U.S. Army veteran) Mack Ferguson. The invocation was read by Sam Tate of Central Baptist Church, and local Boy Scouts raised the flag. Mayor Larry Barton led the Pledge of Allegiance.
Col. Cleve Jacobs, retired, introduced the morning’s guest speaker, Jim Heigl, president of Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 945 and vice commander of American Legion Post 45.
Heigl began his presentation by asking all of the veterans present to repeat their oath to defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic.
The people who took that oath, he said, “love their country above reproach. Their valor is unquestioned. They are proud to have served. I am proud to have served in Vietnam.”
But once he arrived back in the country, he said, in between the time he cleared customs in Oakland and his parents picking him up at the airport, no one spoke to him.
“I was a ghost,” he said. “Children would look at me with blank faces. I found relief in veterans groups. I joined the VFW, but that group ended up shutting down right afterward. I went into the work force at Kimberly-Clark, and somebody said something about one of my citations.” That didn’t go well, he said.
Heigl eventually joined a new VFW chapter and met veterans of World War II and Korea, as well as Vietnam veterans.
He also cited the importance of the American Legion, which was established during World War I to help French widows. The legion was officially sanctioned by Congress in 1919, and has lobbied tirelessly since on behalf of the Boy Scouts of America and for veterans issues.
“Our veterans service officer for this area, August Lehe, retired, and he has not been replaced,” Heigl said. “That’s why it’s important to join groups like this.”
The VVA, he said, was founded in 1978 by Moody Jenkins. He joined the Sylacauga chapter with five other people from his work place. Two of them he had worked with for 20 years without having any idea they had served in Vietnam.
They are pledged, he said, to support all other veterans and veterans groups as well. “We all understand that we have things that we can’t relate to our wives and children. There are things that only veterans can understand. I have a buddy who used to always say, ‘You haven’t lived until you’ve almost died.’”
Following the speech, Gail Perkins sang the national anthem and Ryan Wood played “Taps.” The local Daughters of the American Revolution chapter provided refreshments afterward.