Memorial Day 2000
|Saturday the 27th of May was a
beautiful Georgia day, sunshine and blue skies, speckled here and there
with fluffy snow-white clouds. The lush green grass in contrast with the
darker green Georgia pines was a beautiful setting for what we had come
here to do today.
We were at the Georgia Veterans Memorial State Park a few miles West of Cordele, Georgia, to dedicate a memorial built almost single-handedly by member Tom Nesbitt.
In 1998 Tom had discovered an H model Huey in the Park’s display of military aircraft. A little investigating turned up the fact that the Huey was one of ours, a Red Knight aircraft, 64-13643, one that many members had flown and maintained during their tour in Vinh Long. Tom had actually gotten the Huey moved to the Park a few years earlier but had not thought about checking its history. As she sat there in the Park, RK643 was in pretty poor shape for what Tom had in mind.
First order of business was to get the Park Administration’s permission to restore the aircraft. Once this was granted, Tom set to work. I have followed this project closely and I have seen a couple of labors of love, and this project turned into a labor of love for Tom Nesbitt. Road blocks and obstacles showed up at almost every turning, but with love and a determination not to be defeated, Tom overcame them all. There was a lot of help along the way; the local sheriff offered the services of some of his “guests” to prepare the helicopter for painting, a local paint shop offered equipment and expertise, Lynn Hunter, a lovely lady way up in Gettysburg, PA did the decals for the nose and doors, Ed Briggs found an Oklahoma firm that would do the Memorial stone for much less than Tom could contract for locally, people that had access to parts and materials that Tom needed would send them along, and many other people doing things that I am sure I haven’t heard of. The lone figure pulling all this together and keeping it on track, was Tom Nesbitt.
Finally, with everything in place, Tom plans the memorial service for this day in May. A sizeable number of people have showed up for the event, both 114th members and others from the local area. We gather to view the Memorial. The revered Huey in a shiny new coat of paint, with 114th markings, mounted on a pedestal in a nose-low take-off attitude. At the nose of the helicopter is the red stone from Oklahoma with a dedication to those 114th members Killed in Action, and their names, etched in the stone.
The ceremony began with Posting the Colors by the Warner Robbins American Legion Color Guard, followed by a prayer by Chaplain (LTC Retired) Charles Smith, and the Pledge of Allegiance led by Master of Ceremonies John Pate Bridges, Jr. I was afforded the honor of introducing Colonel Richard Johnson, Commandant of the Warrant Officer Career Center, Fort Rucker, AL, and the guest speaker, one of our own, Brigadier General Boyd E “Butch” King. General King was with the 114th in 1966 and 1967, serving in the Cobra Platoon. Both of these Officers gave moving speeches especially fitting to Memorial Day and to the setting in which we were gathered. COL, USAF (ret) Darwin Edwards slowly and reverently read the names of each of our departed comrades, accompanied by Dr Jim Roland doing Amazing Grace on the bagpipes. This was a very moving time, hearing the names of those loved ones, friends and comrades, gone from us for so long but still close in our hearts, and the muted tones of the pipes playing that beautifully haunting melody. I doubt there was a dry eye in the entire assembly.
Ginger Shannon, assisted by Clyde Scott, laid the wreath at the Memorial. A rifle salute was fired by the members of the Color Guard. Taps was sounded by two buglers from the Army Aviation Center, Fort Rucker, AL. Chaplain Smith read the poem "From The Other Side" and led us in the final prayer, the Colors were retired and the 114th Aviation Company KIA Memorial Dedication Ceremonies came to an end.
During the ceremony, Member Roger Winslow, representing the 114th Aviation Company Association, donated a handsome Huey model and presented it to Tom Nesbitt on behalf of the Association. Well done, Roger.
One of the speakers, I believe it was Col Johnson, stated that what we were doing here this day was what Memorial Day was all about, and is a celebration that is fast growing extinct in our society. Decoration Day as it was known was a single day of celebration, of decorating the graves of our dead comrades, of street parades and flying flags and bands playing martial music. Following, of course was the traditional picnic. Everyone came out and participated. Maybe the population explosion is responsible for folks not doing this anymore. Contributing definitely, is the 3 day weekend that has been built around most of our holidays. Instead of doing the hometown thing, people are scrambling to get as far away as they can in those three days. Tom has gotten our KIA's together on a memorial in Cordele, Georgia. Maybe we can all come back here every Memorial Day and celebrate with them.
There was a lot of videotape taken of this ceremony and Tom tells me that it is good material. He plans to bring it all together into one tape and make it available for the membership to purchase. I’m looking forward to getting a copy. It was really a spectacular setting.
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