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Jeff Whitten: Naming some names
editor's notes

You never know when you’re going to run across a veteran around here, but you can bet your last paycheck you probably won’t have to go too far to find one.

I know, with some it’s obvious. You got plenty of professional veterans around, but others, they don’t advertise it as much.

Richmond Hill librarian Kate Barker, for instance, is a vet. You’d never know she served in the Army unless you talked to her.

Same with Mark Bolton, the head of communications for Coastal Electric Cooperative and one of the nicest people on the planet. He never advertises his service, but Mark was in the Army. I’ve known Mark for more than 20 years and only just found that out.

Pembroke City Councilman and outhouse magnate Ernie Hamilton, who looks more like Santa Claus than Santa Claus, only maybe not nearly as wide, served in Vietnam, like my buddies B.J. Clark and Ernie Mitchell and Donald Singleton and Bruce McCartney, heroes all.

Dave Williams, another fine fellow, is a veteran whose volunteer work is second to none. Former county commissioner Rick Gardner flew helicopters in the Army. So did former County Administrator Phil Jones, a highly-decorated native son of Bryan County and Army aviator who was shot down five times in Vietnam.

Other veterans: Former County Commission Chairman Jimmy Burnsed, Richmond Hill insurance expert Larry Barker; and current District 3 Steve Myers, one of the sharpest tacks in any shed and one of my favorite all-time local government officials. The recent sheriff’s race was full of them, with longtime lawmen Mike Fordham, Mike Maxwell, Doug Sahlberg and Al Hagan having worn a uniform before they got into being lawmen.

So did Richmond Hill Police Chief Mitch Shores.

Pastor Hubert Quiller of Restoration Worship Center is a retired first sergeant. Pastor Daniel Boyd of Emanuel Christian Church is a veteran and a Gamecock, which makes him twice as cool as regular people.

Local oilman Marvin Miller is a vet; his wife Noni is a field grade officer in the Air Force Reserve and recently deployed to Afghanistan again. Marvin, by the way, is commander of Pembroke American Legion Post 164, and recently did a buddy check on me. I was probably getting beat up on Facebook and didn’t even know it, so thanks Marvin. There’s Fausto Tenon, who heads up the local VFW Post, and Craig Butts of Unity in the Community, served in the Navy.

Richmond Hill City Councilman Steve Scholar, a longtime local journalist and planning and zoning expert, was in the Air Force; his fellow councilman Mark Ott was too, and served as a B-52 navigator. Retired Lieutenant Colonel David London, now involved in Falcon Group activism after the death of George Floyd, is a West Pointer and served in the war in Iraq.

Tom Hand, the gentleman who writes our history column, American Corner, is a former West Point football player. He served in the XVIII Airborne Corps Artillery on Fort Bragg around the same time I was stationed there, go figure, and so he remembers running PT on Ardennes Road.

Unlike me, Tom doesn’t remember the Flaming Mug or going down to Fayette-nam, as it was called – which is now Fayette-stan, I’m told. Nor does he likely remember the Asian guys from the local restaurants who’d come into the barracks at night and on weekends plying their wares while hollering “pizza, subs, sodas, egg rolls, fried rice, POSTDATED CHECKS!”

But I digress. Longtime local blogger and businesswoman April Trepagnier is a Navy veteran and once wrote quite a nice column about her service for this paper.

Who else?

My favorite local sportswriter, the inestimable Mike Brown, is a veteran. Hell, he was a Marine. That counts twice. Richmond Hill Middle School science teacher Bob Hodgdon served in the Army.

Ron and Sandra Elliott, founders of Georgia Game Changers Running Company, are both Army veterans. As is Hamilton Kinard, whose injuries while deployed led he and his wife to start up the SD Gunner Fund.

Frank Grimm – one of the genuinely decent men in this world – is a veteran. Environmentalist Roy Hubbard, the fly in a lot of folks ointments for a lot of years and a joy to meet, was a Green Beret.

The Bryan County News office manager, Caitlyn Smoyer and her husband J.D. are both veterans. Jack White, husband to longtime News advertising director Cindy White, is retired Air Force. And the Bryan County News’ talented and always upbeat Hollie Lewis’ husband Darren is retired Army with seven deployments under his belt.

Remember Black Creek’s famous balloonist Andy Cayton?

He served in some kind of special ops stuff.

There are the men who run the JROTC programs at RHHS and BCHS – Lt. Col. Mike Hampton and Sgt. 1st Class Lorenza Ross at BCHS and Maj. Gary Worst, Sgt. 1st Class Charles Blanks and Sgt. 1st Class Wendell Chase.

All are veterans, still serving their country by shaping future leaders.

I could go on for days, probably, naming names, and I know I’m going to leave someone out, but that’s why they make next week’s paper. Finally, if you wonder why I did this it’s for two reasons, really.

One is maybe to give some ink to folks I know who served, which as the late Col. Dick Kent once said, was a privilege and honor.

The other is to point out something that should be obvious to everyone who takes the time to look.

There is really no such thing as a typical veteran, as some politicians who never spent a day in their life in uniform seem bent on thinking. Some of us wind up in jail or, worse, turn into newspaper editors, some become cops or end up in office. Some get rich, others spend time living on the streets.

Some are family oriented, others not so much.

And none of us are perfect, but some probably try harder to be than others.

It is a diverse group of men and women with different politics, different faiths, different ideas on how to make things better, just like the country we joined up for.

That joining up, that’s the common denominator.

It’s something shared with 17.4 million brothers and sisters living all over this great country.

And if anything, it’s something to be humble about, because it’s something that mattered.

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