On a breezy, sun-splashed Monday, Lt. Col. Jason Kidder looked out over the crowd assembled in J.F. Gregory Park for Richmond Hill’s annual Veterans Day observance and spoke of history’s efforts to honor those who served in the military.
“This day has many names,” Kidder said, noting Veterans Day began at the end of World War I as Armistice Day and is also marked by a moment of silence.
“We owe our veterans more than silence,” he said. “We owe them our memories and our thanks.”
In Pembroke, the American Legion Ladies Auxiliary held its annual Veterans Day observance Saturday morning.
Among those who spoke were Jana Smolinksi of American Legion Post 27 of Richmond Hill. American Legion member Virginia Quattlebaum led things off with a prayer. Boy Scouts from Troop 357 also helped with the ceremony.
Expressions of local gratitude were in abundance at Richmond Hill’s ceremony, where Kidder and Mayor Harold Fowler laid a wreath at the city’s Veterans Memorial following a dedication of four bricks at the memorial to soldiers from Richmond Hill, Midway, Hinesville and Ludowici.
The bricks were purchased by the Richmond Hill Exchange Club, whose president, John Gough, spoke of the sacrifices and service of those honored:
- Retired Chief Warrant Officer Three Robert Widener, 76, a Bronze Star recipient and bomb disposal expert who served two tours of duty in Vietnam, died July 31.
- Pilot Capt. Nicholas Whitlock, who was on his fifth deployment in support of Operation Enduring Freedom when he, along with three crew members, were killed when their U-28 aircraft crashed while returning from a mission in Djibouti in February 2012.
- Sgt. Stefan Smith, 24, who served with the 3rd Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment and was killed in Afghanistan by an improvised explosive device.
- Staff Sgt. Jermaine Seabrook, a Bronze Star recipient who served 13 years and did five tours in Iraq, Kuwait and Bosnia before succumbing to cancer in September 2011.
“Memorial bricks for each of these fallen heroes have been placed in this memorial in the fervent hope that present and future generations will be reminded of their bravery and their selfless sacrifice and give thanks,” Gough said.
Seabrook’s widow, Sylvilla Seabrook, attended the ceremony.
“It means a lot to me to know he’s still being recognized for his service and the way he touched the community,” she said. “I still have people emailing his Facebook page telling how he affected their lives and how he helped them.”
Seabrook said she wants people to know her husband was “the most outstanding and generous person.”
“He always helped people when they needed help,” she said. “There was nothing he wouldn’t do.”
Staff Sgt. Seabrook’s former squad leader at the Warrior Transition Unit on Fort Stewart is Michael Bruno, who now works for Edward Jones in Richmond Hill.
He said Seabrook still had plenty to give before cancer took his life.
“I would say after five deployments he still had three or four more left in him,” Bruno said. “He really truly wanted to serve 20 years. His biggest disappointment was that he couldn’t serve more.”
Kidder, a West Point graduate who has also served multiple deployments in the War on Terror, now grinding to a slow halt, said the latest crop of war veterans is no less talented and dedicated than their predecessors.
“Our image of a veteran has changed,” Kidder said. “Half those serving now are between 22-30 years old. We’re about to have the largest population of young veterans since Vietnam War as the Army gets smaller.”
He said around 130,000 soldiers will leave the Army this year and more than 500,000 will by 2017.
“They’ll follow in the proud footsteps of other veterans and they bring with them the uncommon, unwavering strength all our veterans possess.”
Among those who attended the ceremony was newly-minted Marine Pvt. Tyler Wise, who just graduated from boot camp at Parris Island, S.C.
Wise, 19, is a 2013 graduate of Richmond Hill High School and intends to serve his four-year enlistment, go to school and become a Marine officer.
The day was important to Wise, whose father, a former Marine, inspired him to join.
“I know they have in the past done things like this for the veterans, but to come back from boot camp … come back to my home town and see this really makes me proud,” he said.