Salute to VETERANS
Patriotism, heroism, courage, honor, duty, sacrifice. It was these values that were at the forefront Sunday as Russellville VFW Post 5184 hosted the annual Veterans Reception Sunday.
In recognition of Monday being Veterans Day, the VFW welcomed veterans and their
families to the A.W. Todd Center Sunday afternoon following the annual Veterans Day Parade hosted by the American Legion. The afternoon reception, which the VFW has hosted for the past 10-12 years, provided a chance for veterans to be recognized, visit with one another and remember comrades who never came home.
VFW Post Commander Jerry Harbin, who took up the role in February, presided over the event, which included the posting of the colors by the Russellville High School JROTC – after which those in attendance were led in the Pledge of Allegiance and enjoyed a performance of the National Anthem.
In addition to recognizing members present from each branch of the military, Harbin took the time to honor those not present – specifically, the POWs and MIAs of the United States military. An empty table, set for one, represented those absent service members. Harbin detailed the following elements of the table and the significance of each:
▪ The small table is set for one, symbolizing the frailty of one prisoner.
▪ The table is round, showing everlasting concern for POWs/MIAs. The cloth is white, symbolizing the purity of motive for each service member answering the call to duty.
▪ A single red rose brings to mind the lives of these missing men and women, as their loved ones and friends keep the faith while seeking answers.
▪ The red ribbon symbolizes continued determination to account for them.
▪ Lemon symbolizes the bitter fate of those missing, captured and held as prisoners in foreign lands.
▪ A pinch of salt symbolizes the tears of the missing and their families, who long for answers after decades of uncertainty.
▪ The Holy Bible represents the strength gained through faith in this country, founded as one nation under God, to sustain those who are missing.
▪ The candle is reminiscent of the light of hope that lives in the hearts of Americans, to illuminate the way home.
▪ The glass is inverted, to symbolize POWs/MIAs inability to share this evening’s toast.
▪ The chair is empty, for they are missing.
While the remembrance of those POWs and MIAs provoked due respect and solemnity, the afternoon reception was also a time of celebration. Aiding in the festive atmosphere was local artist Joseph Baldwin, who played and sang for those in attendance.
“Times the way they are now in the country, it seems like a lot of people don’t care, and it’s made me care more,” said Baldwin, whose grandfather served in World War II and father served at Vietnam. “If I see somebody wearing one of those caps that says veteran – man, I run up to them and thank them. I say, ‘You don’t know me, but thank you for whatever you’ve done. I appreciate it.’”
With “heartfelt thanks for a job well done,” the VFW also used the reception as a time to recognize the local Firefighter of the Year and Law Enforcement Officer of the Year: Sgt. Chris Watkins and Lt. Ryan Zedrow – of the Russellville Fire Department and the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office, respectively.
Zedrow, who joined the FCSO in 2007, started as a corrections officer and now serves as patrol supervisor lieutenant. He said his interest in law enforcement. was sparked by both his father’s and uncle’s service as police officers.
“You get to help people, meet a lot of different people and do a lot of different things. I
enjoy it,” Zedrow said. It’s always something different; it’s a new challenge all the time.” He added he appreciated the VFW’s recognition.
For Watkins, his career in firefighting began with an EMT role then progressed to EMS and then volunteer firefighting before he took a full-time role at the RFD. The sergeant/paramedic said he was surprised by the award, despite the accolades and commendation he has received this year – Watkins received a Merit Award and Lifesaving Award from Mayor David Grissom in March, in honor of his actions that saved a victim’s life in December 2018.
“I work with some of the best people in the business, so to get awarded is a good feeling,” Watkins said. However, like most who spend each day in such community service roles, Watkins said he doesn’t do it for the recognition. “I don’t think any of us do it for that. We do it because we love it.”
The VFW also honored an outstanding student, Tharptown High School senior Annslee Bottoms, for her entry in the VFW’s Voice of Democracy essay contest.
Harbin took the stage for the first time this year as commander of the local VFW post. He said serving in the role has been smooth sailing since he took over for former commander Bill Jackson in February.
“I’ve gotten tremendous help from everyone. Everyone has been very supportive and encouraging,” Harbin said. “I couldn’t ask for a better group of people to associate with.”
The post has about 50 members, and Harbin said they would love to have more participate. “We need Desert Storm, Afghanistan and Iraq veterans to come on and be active,” said Harbin, whose own tour of duty lasted from 1964-1968, including serving in Vietnam. “It’s about duty. Honor. The commitment to serve our country – from community up to county, state, country – I didn’t quit being a Marine when I got out.”