More than 100 people gathered in J.F. Gregory Park Friday for a Veterans Day ceremony that began precisely at 11 a.m.
“Veterans are a special group that are valued yet often taken for granted,” Richmond Hill Fire Chief Ralph Catlett, himself a 20-year Air Force veteran, told the crowd. “Serving in the military is something not everyone has done, but everyone benefits from those who have.”
Catlett, along with Col. James Dooghan from Fort Stewart, were the guest speakers at the event.
Catlett was in the Air Force from 1975 to 1995 and earned a Bronze Star as part of his deployment during Operation Desert Storm in 1990-91.
“It is the veteran, not the reporter, who guarantees freedom of the press,” he said. “And it is the veteran, not the protester, who guarantees people have the right to burn the flag or take a knee during the National Anthem.”
Catlett said that only 1 percent of the population can count themselves among those who call themselves veterans, but in the words of Winston Churchill, “Never was so much owed by so many to so few.”
Dooghan, who grew up in Japan in a Navy family, has been stationed in Germany, Bosnia and Afghanistan during his career and also is a Bronze Star recipient.
“All across the country today people gather to honor veterans and pay them proper tribute,” he said. “They have served with honor and dignity and lived uncommon lives under a common banner.”
Dooghan said military wives and families also deserve special recognition on this day for their sacrifices.
“No thinking person wants war, but a well-prepared military is the most effective method of keeping the peace,” he added.
Dooghan noted that those who have served bring with them skills and attributes to the workforce after their military careers end.
“We’re not just fighters, although we’re pretty good at it,” he said. “Veterans are teachers, doctors, social workers, first responders and elected officials. They are the heart, soul and spirit of the greatest nation on earth.”
Pastor Steve Lane, chaplain for the Richmond Hill Police Department, provided the invocation and benediction for the event, and a member of Congressman Buddy Carter’s office presented Catlett and Dooghan with American flags that have flown over the U.S. Capitol.
Mayor Harold Fowler and Dooghan laid a wreath at the Veterans Memorial, and two new bricks at the memorial were dedicated by the Richmond Hill Exchange Club.
One is in memory of deceased Richmond Hill resident Wayne Coffe, who served three tours in Vietnam as a combat medic, while the other is in memory of Christopher Roybal, a Navy veteran who served four tours in Afghanistan and was killed in the Las Vegas massacre in early October.
Janet Thayer of the Exchange Club said that although Roybal has no connection to Richmond Hill, the group tries to pick one national veteran each year who deserves special recognition.
Publix provided a free lunch for veterans at the pavilion in J.F. Gregory Park after the event.