The Fourth of July is considered one of the happiest days of the year. It’s a time of celebrations and outdoor festivities. Everywhere you look are decorations of red, white and blue streamers and balloons. Independence Day honors the birth of the United States of America – and a reason to fly Old Glory.
The name of the holiday, Independence Day, exemplifies our reason for celebrating. On July 4, 1776, the 13 original colonies announced to the world they would no longer be ruled by Great Britain. They declared the formation of their own government and adopted the Declaration of Independence.
Many people think of the Fourth of July as simply a day off from work and a great time for a family outing. Although the day is naturally – and should be – fun-filled, thought should be given to the price we have paid and continue to pay to live free. As we celebrate our country’s Independence Day, we remember those who’ve fought for our freedom and those who still fight, including a few from our own Bryan County.
Phillip Jones is one of our American heroes.
He graduated from Richmond Hill High School, was a Wildcat basketball player and married his high school sweetheart, Judy Kay Rabbitt. A soft-spoken, serious-thinking man, Jones served our country in the U.S. Army for 25 years.
He enlisted in the Army and was later commissioned as an officer. Retiring from military service in 1990, Lt. Col. Jones had a stellar military career. He served two years in Vietnam as a helicopter pilot and was shot down five times. Jones received two Purple Hearts and numerous other awards and decorations. He has seen his share of warfare tragedies.
“Service in the military is a way of life – it is a life of sacrifice and separation from loved ones. It requires a dedicated family. Thank God my wife understood these issues and always gave me room to excel,” Jones said, speaking in his calm sincere manner on his thoughts on Independence Day.
“Our independence came with a price,” he continued. ”It still does, as young men and women continue to give their lives so that we remain free. I go to sleep at night thinking how blessed I’ve been for being born an American.”
Jones’ sister, Maxine Thorpe, has always admired her older brother.
“Phil is proud of his military service,” she said. “You can see by looking at him he stands tall, proud and neatly dressed as he was while serving our country.”
After pausing a moment Thorpe, as sweet as ever, added, “He’s the one we go to when we need good advice. He always encourages his brothers and sisters to be all they can be in life.”
Jones simply, yet profoundly, revealed, “I am proud to have worn the uniform and for being given the opportunity to serve our country. I saw military service as a requirement and an opportunity to do my part for the preservation of freedom.”
Today, Jones is the county administrator for Bryan County.
Jack Drossopoulos, better known as “Dross,” had a 38-year military and civil service career. Senior Master Sgt. Drossopoulos retired in 1991 from the 165th Airlift Group of the Georgia Air National Guard.
As a Panel Flight Engineer on C97s and C124 cargo planes, he was assigned numerous missions in foreign countries. The worldwide mission was to transport cargo and replacement equipment. He flew to Japan, Germany, Korea, Spain and Vietnam, to name a few.
Drossopoulos vividly remembers his missions.
“When we landed in Vietnam, we were only allowed to stay on the ground two hours,” he said. “That was barely enough time to unload and reload. We had to get in and out as quickly as possible.”
Proud to be an American, Drossopoulos said he staunchly believes in the support of our troops.
“I think it’s the duty of every American to either join the military or support them wholeheartedly.”
For the past 14 years, Drossopoulos has been working in the sheriff’s department in Savannah. He’s assigned as a “Bluecoat” to Court House Security.
Another Richmond Hill resident, Cindy Hatala, chose to serve in the military as a way to show her love for our country and complete her college education. She served in the Army for three years as a communications operator at Fort Stewart, where Sgt. Cindy Lunser met and married her husband, Joseph.
After completing her enlistment, she graduated college and became a teacher. The GI Bill made that possible. Following 11 years as a teacher at Fort Stewart, she began teaching in Richmond Hill. Hatala has worked in the Bryan County school system for the past 10 years.
“I feel everyone should love this wonderful country which allows us the freedom many people only dream about,” she said. “Those freedoms are possible only because of the sacrifice of our soldiers.”
The Hatalas’ oldest son Nicholas is a high school teacher, their second son Kevin is in the Army, currently in Iraq, and their youngest son Jonathan will be a sophomore in the fall.
As fireworks light up the Fourth of July night, the “rockets red glare” will be a dazzling reminder of our freedom.