VETERANS ISSUE - NOVEMBER 2020
· REMEMBER · RESPECT · REVERE PAGE 66 U.S. ARMY VETERAN JAMES FRANK HUGHLEY PAGE 26 CHRISTI GIBSON PLAYING MUSIC TO HONOR PAGE 44 A SERVANT: JOHNNY LAWRENCE
PAGE 22 CAPT. FREDDIE ODOMES PAGE 54 A SECOND CHANCE PAGE 58 DR. JOANNE SMITH T
CONTRIBUTORS Ann Cipperly Rick Lanier Bradley Robertson Natalie Salvatore
DESIGN/ LAYOUT DESIGN2PRO
Michelle Key, Publisher Originally from Albertville, Alabama, Key and her family moved to the Opelika-Auburn area in 2011 after her husband’s retirement from the U.S. Navy. She is a graduate of Troy University, and she joined the Observer in 2014 as an office administrator before assuming ownership of the newspaper in January 2018.
Hannah Lester, Live Lee Associate Editor Hannah Lester is an Auburn University 2019 Journalism graduate originally from Birmingham, Alabama. She recently started with the Opelika Observer but her main focus is on the Live Lee Magazine.
Woody Ross Rena Smith
PHOTOGRAPHY Robert Noles Hannah Lester
Will Fairless, Opelika Observer Associate Editor Will Fairless graduated from Auburn University’s journalism program in 2020. He is from St. Charles, Missouri, and has been working at the Opelika Observer since June as an associate editor.
CONTACT US Key Media, LLC 216 S. 8th St., Opelika Phone: 334-749-8003 email@example.com
Wil Crews, Staff Reporter Wil Crews is an Auburn University 2020 Journalism graduate originally from Prattville, Alabama. He works as the Opelika Observer’s main prep sports reporter and assists in developing the weekly paper and Live Lee Magazine.
is a publication created by Key Media, LLC.
Robert Noles, Photographer Robert Noles is an award-winning photojournalist who has been with the Opelika Observer for more than 10 years. Originally from Tallassee, he is a graduate of Alabama Christian College and Auburn University.
From The Associate Editor You would be hard-pressed to find someone whose family hasn’t been affected by military service. Maybe your grandfather served, your uncle, your mom or perhaps you are a veteran yourself. My paternal great-grandfather, Floyd Lester, served in the army during World War I. My maternal great-grandfather, James Henry Ferguson, served in World War I, as well. My paternal grandfather, Tom Lester, served in the Korean War as a mechanic on B29 bombers. You don’t have to look far for men and women who have sacrificed so much for your freedoms. The freedom to do and say as you please. The freedom to worship where you choose. The freedom for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. How often, however, do you think of our service members, those who are risking their lives, putting their families on hold and suffering on your behalf?
Lee County is filled with men and women who have served. It is also full of men and women who have supported and honored these veterans. Take some time to thank these heroes, today. Our veterans are not forgotten. We remember. Not only on Veterans Day, but every day. Hannah Lester
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Power Of A Bracelet ...........................................11
A Second Chance, A Hand Up ............................54
Smiles For Service .............................................14
Dr. Joanne Smith T .............................................58
Student Veterans - Different Experiences ..........18
“A Welcome Land” .............................................61
Opelika Paratrooper ...........................................22
Take Care Of Our Heroes ...................................64
Playing Music To Honor ....................................26
Far From Ordinaary ............................................66
American Legion: Postilions & Patriots ............30
A Veterans Day Birthday ....................................72
22 Year Career ....................................................32
Honoring Auburn’s MIA ....................................74
Changing Lives, One Dog At A Time ................36
Forever A Hero ...................................................76
A Purple Heart County .......................................41
VA Benefits .........................................................80
Johnny Lawrence: A Servant ..............................44
Letters From the Mayors ....................................85
Coming Home ....................................................50
Veterans Day Discounts ......................................90
Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Washingon D.C. Photo taken by Scott Fields
Remember • Respect • Revere
“Power Of A Bracelet” Story and Photos By Hannah Lester
urn back the clock 50 years to 1970 and you would find a craze for Missing in Action/Prisoner of War bracelets. Marcia Bailor wanted to honor these American soldiers who went missing or were taken prisoner and decided to purchase a MIA/POW bracelet. Her husband was serving in the National Guard and she knew this would be a great way to inform others and honor American troops. “We had friends that had husbands in Vietnam and when I saw the advertisement I thought, I need to wear a bracelet in honor of one until they see where
he is, to find him,” Bailor said. She wore her bracelet for years, the name Morgan Donahue wrapped around her wrist. Recently, Bailor, now a resident of Lee County, decided to do some research into Donahue’s history. The internet was before her, and surely, somewhere, was information about this veteran. “Sure enough, there is a huge, ton of articles on this man,” Bailor said. “… And they never found him, but I read all the articles. For the first time, I saw who he was then, in his pictures there. And it was incredible to just know that for all those years, that I just did not know who that man was but all of
Remember • Respect • Revere
a sudden, he came out on the computer.” DONAHUE’S HISTORY: Morgan J. Donahue was born in 1944 in Alexandria, Virginia, before going on to serve in the Air Force. He went missing in December 1968 and has not been found to date, according to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund website. First Lieutenant Donahue was serving in the 606th Special Operations Squadron in Thailand, according to the POW Network. Information from the Network on Donahue was compiled from U.S. Government agency sources, POW/MIA families, published sources and interviews, the site said. “On December 13, 1968, the crew of a C123K was dispatched from Nakhon Phanom Airfield located in northern Thailand near the border of Laos on an operational mission over Laos,” the network said. “The C123 was assigned night patrol missions along the Ho Chi Minh trail. Flying low at 2000 to 3000 feet, the job of the seven-man crew was to spot enemy truck convoys on the trail and to light up the trails for accompanying B57 bombers, which were flying overhead.” The crew’s C123 was hit by a B57 from above, and according to the network, the pilot lost consciousness. “Donahue’s station was in the underbelly of the plane where, lying on his stomach, he directed an infrared detection device through an open hatch,” the network said. “The pilot parachuted out, landed in a treetop where he remained until rescued at dawn. On the way down, he saw another chute below him, but, because of the dark, was unable to determine who the crew member was.” Donahue has been promoted to the rank of Major since he acquired MIA status. REACHING OUT: Bailor thought that Donahue’s family might want the bracelet, and she wondered if there would be a
way to reach out to them. She found the POW/MIA family website (www.powmiafamilies.org) and reached out to a random board member on the site. Mark Stephensen answered. “I told him who I was and where I got his name and I told him the name on the bracelet and he said, ‘You are not going to believe this.’ He said, ‘Why’d you pick my name?’ And I said, ‘I don’t know. Could it have been God? Somebody pointed that right out to me.’ He said, ‘I knew his brother … I know his family.’ And we talked all about it.” Stephensen, who serves as the vice chairman, said it is a small community; only 2,500 were documented MIA/POW after the war. “It was wonderful because all those years I wore that bracelet, knew that name but never knew one thing about this person,” Bailor said. Bailor asked Stephensen if Donahue’s family is still around and would potentially want this bracelet. “What [Stephensen] said was that he would get me in touch with his brother and either I could send him that or I could put it in a museum here with a story,” Bailor said. Bracelets are still sold at the pow-miafamilies.org website. “These men want to save us, to protect us and that’s why they were there,” Bailor said. “… He was over there fighting for our freedom and that makes every veteran so special.” She is considering donating the bracelet to a local museum since Stephenson has not had any luck contacting Donahue’s family. The MIA soldier’s brother and father have both passed away. Stephensen told her, however, that if she donates the bracelet she should include Donahue’s story because a piece of metal on its own means nothing, he said. “I’ve heard service members say, ‘To die in combat is not the worst thing. To die in combat and be forgotten is the worst thing,’” Stephensen said.
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Smiles For Service
Story By Natalie Salvatore Photos Contributed By DOCS Dental
OCS Dental, a multi-practice dentistry company striving to provide the finest dental care for military personnel, opened another office on Aug. 10. This new addition to the nationwide practice offers a convenient location (9220 Marne Road at Fort Benning, Georgia) to military personnel in the Auburn-Opelika area. DOCS Dental has been able to create more affordable and practical dentistry for military members and their families since partnering with the Army and Air Force Exchange Service (AFES). Dr. Larry Caplin, CEO of the almost 30-yearold company, is thankful for the partnership with AAFES.
“We realize that increasing health and wellness services is an important focus area of the Army and Air Force Exchange Service’s mission, and we are honored to be an extension of this work by providing high-quality dental care on base,” he said. Just like many businesses across the country, DOCS has had to adjust its operation because of the coronavirus pandemic. “Providing excellent dental care in a safe environment remains our top priority,” Caplin said. “DOCS Dental appointments are conducted in a clean and sanitized environment, with social distancing practices and a quick health screening and temperature check at every visit.”
This way, DOCS is able to remain open to serve its patients while keeping everyone as healthy and safe as possible. This practice offers a full range of services provided all on base, at the many locations across the country. Besides Fort Benning, DOCS also serves Luke Air Force Base, Fort Sam Houston, Fort Eustis, Fort Campbell and Fort Bragg. The practices offer basic procedures including cleanings, check-ups and X-rays. DOCS also provides more complex procedures, such as endodontics, orthodontics/Invisalign, TMJ/TMD treatments, crowns/bridges, cosmetic dentistry, oral surgery and even handles dental emergencies. No matter what procedures patients are after, Caplin said that DOCS delivers care that is comprehensive and accessible. This company truly becomes part of the community at each of its locations.
“I think we’ve seen an enormous appreciation for the convenience of having dental care available on base,” Caplin said. “Oftentimes, working families juggle many priorities and having services available in one central place can make life easier. “In addition, we’ve seen a tremendous amount of support for our grand opening events – having our friends from the sports and entertainment world help kick off services bring lots of smiles to the military communities on-base.” For all procedures, patients can use any military insurance provider. These providers are listed on the website (www.DOCSDental.health). Online, patients can also schedule an appointment, access patient portals or fill out new patient registration forms. To learn more, patients can also call the Fort Benning office at 706-383-6926. The office is open Monday through Saturday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Remember • Respect • Revere
Student Veterans Have Different Experiences
Story By Hannah Lester Photos Contributed By The Auburn Student Veterans Association
he Auburn Student Veterans Association exists to provide support, assistance and perhaps most importantly, community, to students at Auburn University. Many veterans choose to take advantage of the GI Bill after they finish service, embarking on a path to higher education.
THE COMMUNITY: Veterans want to relate with others just as any student does, and the ASVA gives veterans a place to talk about their service, what they went through or just about everyday life in college. Of course, a veteran’s experiences are often different from those of an average 18-year-old college freshman.
“Student veterans come to the school and want to find a group of people to hang out with, be a part of, that have had the same experiences as them,” said ASVA Vice President Matthew Jones. Jones, who served in the Marines, said that when he started at Auburnit had been two years since he’d been around another veteran. “I came to the first meeting of the semester and I was like, yeah, ‘I really like these people,’” he said. “… I had all these things that I’d been through in the Marines … I would talk to my coworkers and they had no idea what I was talking about.” ASVA gave Jones the opportunity to share his experiences with those who understood. Mike Patterson served in the Air Force for eight years before starting at Auburn University and joining the ASVA. Patterson has graduated and now acts as an advisor for the association. The association was a big part of Patterson’s education, he said.
“If that organization had not existed and been there, I probably wouldn’t have graduated from Auburn University,” he said. “There’s just so much that you go through when you’re getting off of active duty and coming in to this life.” There are things that veterans bring from their service to the college life, such as time management skills, that are beneficial, Patterson said. But there are unique difficulties. For instance, student veterans are often a lot older than their classmates. “[The association] kept me on a level playing ground with people that didn’t have the same experiences that I did,” he said. “That have moved around, deployed, been overseas, all those types of things. I found that comfort level in that office.” Student veterans have a specific orientation experience, Jones said, called Auburn Warrior Orientation and Learning, AWOL. “That’s an extra orientation that we give just to student veterans, usually the Thursday before first day of classes,” Jones said. “… We take the student veteran,
“I FOUND THAT COMFORT LEVEL IN THAT OFFICE”
Remember • Respect • Revere
we introduce them to other veterans on campus, whether they’re faculty members, other students or just community leaders. And we’re like, ‘Hey, you’re Auburn. You’re a part of the Auburn family now.’” After this, the new student meets members of the ASVA. Starting school is stressful for anyone, and the association wants to make it easier. Jones said that during orientation, the new student prints out his or her schedule and meets with other veterans who may be taking the same classes. The association has regular business meetings, along with opportunities just to socialize among other veterans. “I really just challenge everybody to come and spend 30 minutes to an hour with us,” Patterson said. “Just come down, sit down, see if you can find something that interests you that we do or maybe there’s a piece of something that you would like to see us do. And then we’re really going to ask you to implement that and help us figure out how to get that going.” Every year (though not this year due to coronavirus restrictions), the association has a tailgate for members. “We’re right here beside Foy Hall, just a three-minute walk to the stadium and we partner with this other tailgating group,” Jones said. “So by the time football season usually gets here, we’ve got, in our area here, we’ve got about six tents set up. There are three grills going and we’ve got TVs all over the place watching other games until the Auburn game starts.” Every year, the university holds a military appreciation week and the ASVA participates in pre-game activities for all in-season sports. “We walk down the Tiger Walk,” Jones said. “The officers of the ASVA get to go out to the field and are introduced to the crowd, somewhere around mid-first quarter. So that’s kind of a big deal for us.”
CONNECTING AND REPRESENTING: The association serves as a voice for student veterans to the university as a whole, Jones said. For instance, the ASVA was a big part of lobbying to label Auburn University a Purple Heart campus, he said. This involved installing Purple Heart parking spots for veterans. “Our big thing right now that we’re working on is to get the [Auburn University Medical Clinic] to accept patients that are paid for by the VA,” he said. “Because right now student veterans, to see somebody, they have to go to Tuskegee, Montgomery or Columbus if they’re on VA insurance.” Patterson said that ASVA wants to help students succeed in classwork but also in finding their purpose after education. “The way that I feel like veterans are sort of treated sometimes is a one-use purpose,” he said. “We’re there to serve a purpose in time of war, and do this and do that, but then once that’s over, people kind of forget about [veterans]. Once you’ve separated from the military, unless you tell them about it, they don’t know who you are or what you’ve done or where you’ve been. And we feel like there’s a purpose for each one of these students.” Therefore, each October the association holds its annual golf tournament for community leaders and business owners as a way to connect members with potential hiring businesses, Jones said. The association also provides scholarships to veterans and raises the money through an annual fundraiser, the Veterans Gala. “We grossed, on top of our cost, $19,000,” Jones said. “… We gave out six $1500 scholarships to student veterans. And rather than doing that through the school, we give those scholarships out as checks. So the student veteran can use that money however they need to.”
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Opelika Paratrooper Story By Will Fairless Photos By Robert Noles
eventy-two-year-old Capt. Freddie Odomes is an Auburn resident who has served a total of 26 years in the military. What is most notable about his 26 years is how they are distributed; he is a combat veteran of the Vietnam War (serving from 1964 to 1987) and was most recently on active duty in his 60s, from 2006 to 2010. He enlisted in the military to become a paratrooper. “I saw a commercial, and the sky was just full of parachutes, I mean it was so beautiful,” Odomes said. “So I checked around to learn skydiving. And when I got the prices and all this, what it took, I said, ‘I can’t afford that.’” He could not afford lessons on his $75-per-week budget, money he earned painting cars. He found a way to learn though; he joined the military at 18. “The military would train me how to jump and pay for me jumping,” Odomes said. “Then to find out they give me food, a place to live … what more could you want? They didn’t even have to mention retirement, they didn’t get that far.” He soon went through AIT (advanced individual training), was assigned a role in personnel
administration and went to jump school. Jump school was three weeks of training at Fort Benning in Georgia. “It was kind of strange because we got locked down on the center here at Fort Benning the day we got there because they knew we were going to Vietnam, and we basically had no idea we were going,” Odomes said. He added that if he had known, he probably wouldn’t have gone to jump school. As it happened, though, he did go to jump school, which he called a traumatic experience because of the lockdown and abrupt shipping off to Vietnam upon graduation
Remember • Respect • Revere
from the program. Odomes was the commander of a five-man unit within the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV) in 1970. They lived on a hill with the Vietnamese counterparts they were advising. The hill was a Vietnamese position, so those counterparts were responsible for the overall security of the position while the Americans advised the team on how to protect it. The Vietcong attacked the position in the middle of the night, and rockets struck the hill on which Odomes and the rest were living. “I had multiple fragmentation wounds all over my body,” he said. “My eyes, my face, my arms, my legs.” He received morphine and rough bandaging in the field before being airlifted to a triage setup then an American hospital. Odomes was awarded a bronze star for his actions while wounded. “They saw fit to bestow [it] upon me for my actions at that time when I was wounded,” he said.
He recuperated well, went to school (a theme of his life) to be a Ranger and was a Ranger instructor for two and a half years. After that he was one of the subjects of a reduction in force, when there’s an abundance of officers in the Army and some are cut. He went to school again, this time for a basic noncommission officer course. Odomes traveled to Germany for the first time, a two-year stay working in personnel administration, the role he was originally assigned before his surprise trip east. Odomes made two more trips back and forth from Germany, working different administrative jobs and being shuffled around in the military ranks before he retired from the military and rejoined civilian life, which he found lacking. More specifically, lacking vacation time—he found the civilian work schedule too demanding. “As time progressed [in the military], it got to the point where we were getting, if we were in the field training something and missed a holiday or we just performed exceptionally well, we would get what’s called a training holiday,” Odomes said. “We were
putting training holidays on Friday and Monday, so it might get slid in there and you might have a fourday weekend.” He was also spoiled by the German holiday schedule. His wife of 42 years, Sonja, is from Germany and said she never had a problem making the decision between the American and German holiday schedules. Odomes went back on active duty at the age of 58 as the commander of the warrior transition battalion and a company commander within the battalion. “[The warrior transition battalion] was developed to take care of the soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan and some other places overseas,” Odomes said. “Certain medical conditions couldn’t be handled right away; the person was recuperating, but they needed special attention, and that’s what we provided for them.” The transition battalion worked with the veterans to help them transition back to civilian life “with dignity and respect,” as Odomes put it, in addition to that special attention during the recovery process. He retired from the military with finality in 2010 and headed to school to study psychology. Odomes said part of the reason he wanted to return to school was so he would not be a hypocrite. “You need an education, you need to get yourself prepared for the future,” he said he often told young people. He wanted to follow the advice for himself. He chose psychology as his area of study because of his experience in war. “When I came back after being wounded, I had no support system from the military,” he said. “In World War II, they’d just look at a person and say, ‘Oh, he’s just shell shocked.’ They didn’t even put a name on it when we came back from Vietnam.” He graduated in two and a half years with a 3.9 GPA and is now
using what he learned (and what he has experienced) to help other veterans. He is involved in the 173rd Airborne Association, in which he visits in-patient but ambulatory veterans. “Most of what we do is just, what are they doing, how are they getting along, ‘See you next time,’” Odomes said, modestly. He also works with the American Legion helping disabled veterans receive their benefits from the VA. “You get whatever you need, but you have to sometimes put your foot down and let people know that you are human, that you have a need and you’re entitled to it,” Odomes said. He serves the youth of the community with Sons of the American Legion by teaching young people what the American Legion stands for and sending members to oratorical contests. “That’s kind of like helping to prepare them for what they’re gonna be confronted with when they go off to college,” Odomes said. He said that when he joined the military, he accepted what would come with it, bad and good. He accepted that he might be torn up and run through with shrapnel from rockets destorying the earth around him in Vietnam. And he accepted that he would get paid for jumping out of airplanes. Odomes accepted that he would learn things and experience things that would put him in a position to help veterans of the wars that came after his generation’s (although his service is not, by any stretch of the imagination, confined to one generation). He accepted death. “You cannot predetermine where or when you’re gonna die,” Odomes said. “It’s something that you don’t need to worry about. I could very well, very easily be killed right here in the United States . . . it’s gonna happen.”
Remember • Respect • Revere
Story By Natalie Salvatore Photos By Robert Noles
ver since she was a young girl, Christi Gibson has had a passion for the piano. She had a music-loving family to look up to and knew it was a skill she wanted to learn.
Now, with many years of experience under her belt, the Opelika resident regularly plays piano for veterans in the community, using her interests and talents to honor veteransâ€™ service to this country.
Born in Tupelo, Mississippi, Gibson began her life on a farm. Her family relocated to Tuscumbia, Alabama a few years later. Gibson missed the farm life, but the move allowed her to begin piano lessons in Florence, Alabama at five years old. “At that age, I learned the basic elements necessary to play with two hands, and my strong desire to excel and play more difficult pieces disciplined me to practice non-stop for hours at a time,” she said. The budding pianist continued developing her proficiency without lessons, as she did not click with her instructors or their teaching styles. She diligently practiced on her own, played pieces she enjoyed and purchased music books, which all contributed to her tremendous success. She began lessons again in high school, this time with a new instructor her father had hired. This teacher, who played piano by chord, sparked her interest in learning the different playing style. “I owe my ability to write music and ad lib to his instruction, which has truly been a blessing in my life,” she said.
Gibson has lived in several different states in the U.S. where she has played piano for audiences of all ages. No matter where she is entertaining others with her music, Gibson said she strives to show active military personnel and veterans just how much she cares. She plays patriotic songs and has performed in many different venues, including veteran centers and hospitals, schools, assisted living facilities, nursing homes and, recently, the White House. The pianist says that her favorite place to play is at a venue for veterans. Gibson’s first veterans experience came when her friend nudged her to visit the Veterans Hospital in Des Moines, Iowa. Despite her initial reluctance, as the veterans were busy eating their meals when she arrived, she sat down at the baby grand and began to play. She placed her fingers on the keys, and after a few notes she was able to connect with not only the veterans there, but also with everyone else passing by. The combination of the piano’s optimal location in the hospital’s foyer and Gibson’s impeccable talents
Remember • Respect • Revere
and generosity contributed to the success with the veterans. “I truly felt as if I was filling each and every person in the establishment with love for the country and the veterans in our midst,” she said. “I was so moved and inspired by my first experience that I committed to play every Tuesday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., and later on, twice per week.” Patients would request songs, take longer to eat their meals to hear her music or even have personal conversations with her about the struggles they endured during their times of service. “There was nothing more gratifying than being able to witness the gratitude and love my music inspired there,” she said. Now, Gibson continues her love for honoring veterans back home in Opelika. Venues here snatched her up, all hoping she would grace them with her musical talents and warm heart. She has played for veterans at the Museum of East Alabama, at the Tuskegee Veterans Hospital’s Convalescent Care facility and at many Saugahatchee Country Club events in Auburn.
Gibson had planned to continue playing piano for veterans this year. However, those plans have changed with the coronavirus pandemic. She is no longer able to play for anyone in hospitals or convalescent homes because of health and safety concerns. “There are no words to express how much I miss being able to give those who are confined with a disability, injury or are ambulatory a bit of joy, a smile or a means of reminiscing through my music,” she said. “So, I continue to hope and pray for the day when there is a resolution, and life may return to normal, especially for those who need entertainment the most.” Piano is a huge part of Gibson’s life, she said, and a blessing from God. Playing this instrument gives her an outlet, she said, to express different emotions, such as joy, sadness and thankfulness, all while being therapeutic. What makes piano even better is when she can use it to honor veterans, Gibson said. She said she recognizes veterans’ courage and selfless honor to their country and wants to show them this by offering beautiful pieces of music to their listening ears.
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The American Legion:
Postilions and Patriots Story By Rick Lanier
onor to the soldier and sailor everywhere, who bravely bears his country’s cause. Honor, also, to the citizen who cares for his brother in the field and serves, as he best can, the same cause.”― Abraham Lincoln Any given day in Main St., USA, veterans are interwoven into the fabric of society. City leaders, business owners, first responders, citizens and veterans of World War II, of Korea, of Vietnam, of Desert Storm, the Balkans, Iraq and Afghanistan all share a common denominator: across generations, each served with honor and stand ready to serve America again, anytime or anywhere. For over a century, the American Legion has served the nation as a red-white-and-blue organization and advocate and influencer of social change in America. The American Legion focuses on service to veterans, active service members and communities and has helped establish hundreds of new veteran benefits. Congress chartered the American Legion on Sept. 16, 1919, as a patriotic organization to serve the needs of war-weary veterans. Today, the American Legion has become one of the most influential nonprofit groups in the United States with over three million members and 13,000 posts worldwide. More than 9,800 proud veterans call Lee County their home. Unfortunately, many of our veterans do not receive the federal and state benefits they deserve and are available to them. Many become frustrated with the lack of access to a
Photos By Robert Noles computer or other needed resource and give up after attempting to satisfy the myriad of requirements associated with the application process. Some simply do not know that their service to our country has earned them benefits that could help them in their everyday lives. Opelika’s American Legion Posts 18 and 152 strive to change that and want each veteran to know that help is available to them. Local posts serve as a headquarters for veterans and a place where veterans can help each other navigate the governmental red tape associated with applying for and receiving due benefits. It serves as a place to organize service plans, a place of fellowship, a respite for those working through the unique challenges veterans face, a source of information and a place where veterans can proudly share what their service and America means to them. “Over the past couple of years, our post has done a good job in not only taking care of our veteran’s needs, but the needs of our communities as well, more especially the youth within those communities,” said George Dowdy, commander of American Legion Post 18. “Recently, and unfortunately with COVID, our efforts have been curtailed a great deal. We were able to organize some relief from the past hurricane, but we look forward to getting back to full speed once again.” To the Legionnaire, and veterans everywhere, the beliefs and values upon which our great country was founded remain alive and well. Words such as honor, courage, vigilance,
service, sacrifice and the rule of law are not merely words bound by the tattered pages of history, instead they serve as tenets to the way of life within the community veterans now call home. Yankee Doodle is indeed alive and well, along with the do-or-die nephews (and nieces) of Uncle Sam proudly serving still — ever vigil and always ready.
American Legion National Headquarters are located in Indianapolis, Indiana. American Legion posts are organized into 55 departments – one for each state, and the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, France, Mexico and the Philippines. American Legion Post 18 is located at 710 West Point Parkway Opelika and American Legion Post 152 located at 2800 Pepperell Parkway Opelika. Visit legion.org for more information.
Remember • Respect • Revere
22 Year Career Story By Rick Lanier
Photos By Live Lee Staff
ost days you will find Bob Funk at the “office” paying the rent, unselfishly doing what he does best –– helping people achieve what they want or need in life by helping them convey or decipher the meaning of their message. Bob Funk is a true communicator, a Radioman by trade, a craft he learned and mastered during a 22-year career in the United States Navy. The secret, according to Funk? “Listening twice as much as you speak.” A rare art these days, but Funk is an expert. A review of Funk’s impressive and decorated military career shows he graduated boot-camp in Orlando, Florida in 1971, and then was whisked off to the Vietnam War onboard the USS Oklahoma City (CGL-5) where his service began in earnest. Funk graduated Radioman technical schooling in 1972 and was ordered to Rota, Spain, onboard the USS Simon Lake (AS33). He received his first shore-duty assignment at the Naval Broadcasting Center in Pensacola, Florida, in 1976. Funk went back to sea in 1978 onboard the USS Sampson (DDG-10) stationed in Mayport, Florida, where he served as the Leading Petty Officer (LPO) of the Communications Department. From there, he
was assigned to the guided missile cruiser USS Texas (CGN-39) from 1981 to 1986. Funk’s career would hit high gear when he reported to Yokosuka, Japan, for duty in 1987 at the Naval Communication Station where he served as a member of the National Security Agency (NSA) cadre until 1990. There he earned his anchors and the title of “Chief” with his promotion to the esteemed rank of Radioman Chief Petty Officer (E-7). Finally, in 1991, with the clouds of conflict in Southwest Asia dotting America’s horizon, now Senior Chief (E-8) Funk’s illustrious career came to a close with the completion of Operation Desert Storm onboard USS Dixon (AS-37). Senior Chief Funk had completed three Mediterranean Sea deployments and two Western Pacific deployments. Senior Chief Funk had been well prepared for his transition to the service of veterans and his local community. “I joined the American Legion after my first duty assignment as a way to stay connected to my friends while being able to help others,” he said. “I can’t imagine what my life would be like if I had not done it.” Today his “office” is the Legionnaire at Ope-
“I JOINED THE AMERICAN LEGION AFTER MY FIRST DUTY ASSIGNMENT AS A WAY TO STAY CONNECTED TO MY FRIENDS WHILE BEING ABLE TO HELP OTHERS,” HE SAID. “I CAN’T IMAGINE WHAT MY LIFE WOULD BE LIKE IF I HAD NOT DONE IT.”
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lika’s John. H. Powell American Legion Post 18. A war veteran and career military member, he is well equipped to help those struggling with the myriad challenges associated with the military-to-civilian transition. Thirty-plus years as a Legionnaire and former Commander of the Post gave Funk the knowledge to understand the nuances required in balancing veterans’ needs and the needs of his community. A deadly tornado ravaged the Beauregard community in 2019 and Senior Chief Funk and the American Legion were there. He has been instrumental in the Legion’s participation with the local “Toys for Tots” drive over the years, the success
of the Post’s Wednesday night Bingo game and the other fund-raising events designed to benefit community members and neighbors. More recently, when Hurricane Sally made landfall on Sept. 11 this year, wreaking havoc on the Gulf region, Post 18 committed financial and personnel resources to help those in need. “Bob is the “glue” that holds us together,” said George Dowdy, current Post 18 Commander. “Everybody loves Bob, they understand him and he helps them to understand. He really is the personification of the meaning of service, and he helps all of us be the organization we are today.” It is just who he is.
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Changing lives, one dog at a time Story By Wil Crews Photos Contributed by K9s for Warriors
9s for Warriors is a nonprofit that aims to end veteran suicide and return warriors to a life of dignity and independence. The organization rescues shelter dogs to be paired as service dogs for warriors with service-connected post-traumatic stress, traumatic brain injury or military sexual trauma. At least 20 veterans who served post 9/11 commit suicide daily, on average, according to the K9s for Warriors website. Roughly 20% of those post 9/11 veterans suffer from PTSD – that’s over 700,000 veterans. Service members suffering from PTSD are at a higher risk for suicide. And around 700,000 dogs are euthanized in shelters every year, the website said. Each month a cohort of veterans arrives at one of K9s for Warriors two campuses for a three-week, in-house training at no cost to them. K9s for Warriors provides
the veterans with an already-trained canine, housing, meals, equipment, veterinary care and 120 hours of training in a family-type atmosphere that provides essential peer-to-peer support. Veterans learn how to work with their service dog and create the necessary bonding for the two to be a successful team during the threeweek training period. Recently, two strangers, Army veterans Ryan and Ben [last names are withheld by the organization], went to the K9s for Warriors’ headquarters – Camp K9 – in Ponte Vedra, Florida. “When I got out [of the service], the PTSD was pretty bad,” Ryan said. “I didn’t want to admit it at first but it starts creeping up into every part of your life. One of my old soldiers had gone through K9s for Warriors. I saw him at another one of our soldier’s funerals with his dog. I saw the change in him and knew right away it
was something I needed to do.” Ben’s reasoning for applying to the program was a little different. “I wanted the freedom to go anywhere and do anything, and I wanted to get back to doing the things I loved before all of my issues arose,” he said. Ryan was ahead of Ben in the check-in line when they arrived at Warriors for K9s, and Ben overheard where Ryan was from. The two come to find out that they only lived 10 minutes away from each other in Smiths Station, Alabama. “We started talking from there and realized that our kids go to the same schools,” Ben said. “We’re like five miles from each other.” The two trained with their new service dogs, Caliber, a three-year-old lab-pit mix, and Apollo, a two-anda-half-year-old Swiss Mountain dog, for three weeks before heading back home. “[Apollo] is a very needy dog; he craves attention and
affection,” Ben said. “He thinks he’s a lab dog. For him and me it was really easy, because I enjoyed the attention as well.” Ryan said he had to work a little harder to earn the affection of Caliber. “I wouldn’t say we really hit it off right away,” he said. “It’s kind of ironic. I’m a gunsmith by trade and his name’s Caliber. It just worked out really cool. But I found out what motivated him after about a week and a half, that’s when we started bonding and ever since then he hasn’t left my side.” The dog-to-trainer bond that Ben and Ryan have developed with their canines can be a life saver for many veterans. Apollo will wake Ben up if he’s having nightmares and is always checking on his owner. “For me, one of the biggest issues on a day-to-day basis was my temper,” Ben said. “And going out in public, I have anxiety attacks, panic attacks, things like that.” Ben said Apollo takes his mind off of everything go-
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ing on around him and in turn, Apollo takes the attention off of Ben because everyone wants to look at the cute dog. “I very rarely have panic attacks in public anymore; my demeanor is more even-keeled,” Ben said. The benefits that Caliber present to Ryan are very similar. “Just a lot of confidence going out,” Ryan said. “I just have a different outlook. I don’t mind actually talking to people nowadays. I used to think people were always looking at me, but now I have someone to take the attention.” K9s for Warriors has graduated 641 warrior-canine teams and rescued 1,231 dogs as of Sept. 2020. The majority of the dogs that train in the program come from rescue shelters or are owner surrendered. K9s for Warriors rescues the dog and the dog rescues the veteran. Ryan and Ben have kept in touch since leaving the
K9s for Warriors program. “We’re fishing buddies for sure,” Ryan said. “I’ve been kayak fishing all the time and now I can’t get him to come with me.” Still, both veterans cannot say enough about K9s for Warriors. “I would recommend the program to any veteran,” Ben said. Ryan said that this program is one of the best for those who suffer with PTSD. “Not only are they rescuing dogs but they are rescuing soldiers,” he said. To learn more or to donate go visit the website (www. k9sforwarriors.org.) Eighty-two percent of K9s for Warriors’ funds support their operating and program cost. The remaining 18% covers administrative cost to ensure the organization will continue to grow, and in turn, save more lives.
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A Purple Heart County Story By Hannah Lester Photos By Live Lee Staff
ee County has taken steps to honor Purple Heart Veterans. A jaunt through the county and cities of Auburn and Opelika reveal roadways, signs and designated parking spots for Purple Heart Veterans. Veterans receive a Purple Heart Distinction if they were wounded in combat. Lee County has 136 Purple Heart Veterans. “For those of you who may not be aware, the Purple Heart is awarded to a soldier who is wounded in combat or killed,” said late Lee County Commissioner Johnny Lawrence at a meeting to announce Lee County as a Purple Heart County. “So this is not one of those [awards] you get for doing just a very, very good job. You’ve actually got to be willing to lay it right there, all on the line in order to receive it.” The process of creating a Purple Heart County can be lengthy but is a sure way to honor veterans. Lee County took its first steps when it became a part of the Purple Heart Trail, Lawrence said. “The purpose of the Purple Heart Trail is to create a sym-
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bolic and honorary system of roads, highways, bridges and other monuments that give tribute to the men and women who have been awarded the Purple Heart medal,” according to purpleheart. org. “The Purple Heart Trail accomplishes this honorary goal by creating a visual reminder to those who use the road system that others have
paid a high price for their freedom to travel and live in a free society.” Lee County officially declared itself a Purple Heart County at the Sept. 30, 2019, Lee County Commission meeting. “The Lee County Commission hereby declares Lee County a Purple Heart County, honoring the
service and sacrifice of our men and women in uniform wounded or killed by the enemy while serving to protect the freedoms of all Americans,” county documents from the meeting said. Lawrence presented the resolution to the commission and Purple Heart recipient Vann Daughtry spoke of the importance following the approval vote. Daughtry said that Alabama has the highest veterans’ suicide rate in the nation. “If you see a veteran, I don’t care if they’re a purple heart veteran, veteran, lady, man, it makes no difference to me,” he said. “Thank them for their service, thank them for what they have done, what they are doing and what they’re going to do. You may save somebody’s life.” The commission then invited all veterans and attendees to join them outside the courthouse to see the new Purple Heart Veteran parking space. Auburn: The Auburn City Council met soon after Lee County’s proclamation and voted to approve the city of Auburn as a Purple Heart City.
“The contributions and sacrifices of the men and women of the city of Auburn that served in the armed forces have been vital in maintaining the freedoms and the way of life enjoyed by our citizens and whereas the city council of the city of Auburn appreciates the sacrifice our Purple Heart recipients made while defending freedom and believe specific recognition be accorded them in appreciation of their courage to demonstrate the honor and support that that have earned,” said Auburn Mayor Ron Anders at the council meeting on Oct. 15, 2019 from the official proclamation. Anders presented the resolution in the presence of veterans. “The mission of the Military Order of the Purple Heart is to foster an environment of goodwill among the combat-wounded veteran members of their families, to promote patriotism, to support legislative initiatives and most importantly — make sure we never forget,” Anders said. Daughtry then presented the city with a certificate of appreciation. Opelika: The city of Opelika declared itself a Purple Heart City long before the county or city of Auburn did. Opelika approved the designation in June, 2013, at a council meeting. The proclamation that was approved listed a few of Lee County’s Purple Heart recipients at the time: David Daughtry, Leslie Digman, Kyle Golden, Lloyd Owens, Lt. Gen. Harold G. Moore, Larry Quinton, Kenneth Rymal and Edward Scherer. “The city of Opelika has a large population of highly decorated military members, active duty and retired, as well as Purple Heart recipients wounded in combat, living in the community and whereas the city of Opelika has great administration for the men and women who have selflessly served our country and acknowledges our veterans who have paid the high price of freedom by leaving their families and communities behind; placing their own lives in harm’s way for the good of all,” the proclamation read.
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JohnnyLawrence:AServant Story By Hannah Lester Photos By Robert Noles and Contributed By Maggie Lawrence, Wayne Wommack and Billy Jackson
here are those who didn’t have the opportunity to serve in the United States Military, those who may have wanted to, who found other ways to support their country and veterans. Johnny Lawrence, who passed away from COV-
ID-19 in August, left a legacy behind. Johnny was a former Auburn Fire Fighter, Battalion Chief and Lee County Commissioner, but he had a passion — a passion for serving veterans in Lee County. “In 1984, Johnny was in school in Auburnhe was in ROTC, he was a paramedic at Auburn
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at the time and he had a catastrophic accident,” Johnny’s wife, Maggie, said. The accident, which broke Johnny’s knee, left him unable to join the military, as he once hoped and planned. “He had plans to go into the military himself,” Maggie said. “He had seen friends go off to the Vietnam War at the fire department, he had a number of colleagues who were Vietnam veterans and Korean War veterans. He saw how the Vietnam veterans were received and treated. And he had a lot of close friends who were veterans.” Although perhaps feeling left behind, Johnny began supporting these friends, neighbors and even strangers who were veterans, in any way he could. Johnny served his community as a firefighter for 29 years.
“I was honored to serve with Johnny Lawrence as a firefighter with the city of Auburn for almost 10 years,” said Joe Lovvorn, who is appointed to the Alabama House of Representatives. “Johnny obtained the rank of Battalion Chief, and never lost sight of the value of each person working under his command. He would spend one-onone time with every firefighter and took steps to mentor and guide people as they dealt with career and life steps. “Whenever we responded to stressful emergency scenes, he went out of his way to make sure you knew he was feeling the emotions with you. He would often offer comic relief at his own expense, just to return a smile to someone’s face.” Maggie said that her husband did what he could as a fire fighter but had more authority to insti-
tute plans once he became a Lee County Comhe always assumed Johnny was a service memmissioner. ber himself because of the respect he carried for Johnny served the county as a District 2 comveterans. missioner for 18 years. “I started noticing that Johnny never said the “One of the things, once he became a commisprayer at any county commission meeting that sioner, he wanted to do was see Lee County do he didn’t include something about the men and things beyond the ceremony,” Maggie said. “The women in armed services,” Ham said. “So he mayor’s prayer breakfast on Memorial Day, is an was very consistent about his appreciation for important honor but he wanted the county to do the people in the military.” things to serve veterans on a daily basis.” Johnny was also a supporter of student veterans Lee County Probate at Auburn University. Judge Bill English said “He thought it was “JOHNNY WAS A that Johnny was passionimportant that Auburn ate about educating the make it easy for veterans GREAT EXAMPLE community on the differto come here and to use OF SOMEONE THAT ence between Memorial the benefits that they had Day and Veterans Day. earned, in terms of earnAPPRECIATED THE “Veterans Day honors ing an education,” MagFREEDOMS WE ENJOY, all veterans, Memorial gie said. Day honors those that Paul “Puck” Esposito AND WORKED TO lost their lives,” English had been working as a REPAY HIS CIVIC said. “And to Johnny, that Commanding Officer ultimate sacrifice concept of the Tuskegee ComRENT THROUGH was a pretty big deal to manding ROTC Unit for COMMUNITY him.” only a couple of weeks Some projects that before Johnny showed SERVICE. HE WOULD Johnny had a hand in up at his door. Johnny NOT ONLY ATTEND or supported as a comtold Esposito that he missioner included the wanted to do what he EVENTS, HE WOULD creation of the Veterans could to help support BE A KEY ORGANIZER Court Program (read veterans as a commismore on page 54,) renamsioner. OF ANY PARADE, FLYing the Lee County MeetJohnny wanted to conIN OR CEREMONY FOR ing Center to the Bennie nect ROTC units with Adkins Meeting Center veterans so both groups OUR VETERANS.” could benefit, Esposito (read more on page 74,) said. and naming Lee County as a Purple Heart County (read more on page The more the two worked together, the closer they became as friends. 39.) “Through the years he got into a lot of what “You know Johnny, you don’t just work with Johnny, you’re Johnny’s friend,” Esposito said. we do, he was our representative on the LeeRussell Council of Government’s Board of Di“And then you’re part of Johnny’s family. And once you’re in Johnny’s family, you’re part of it rectors,” English said. “He really had his heart all, good, bad and indifferent. He just sucks you in the aviation community. He served on the airport advisory board for most of his 18 years in and what a great, great person to have. I’m in office.” blessed to be able to call him my friend because District 4 Commissioner Robert Ham said that he just got himself involved.”
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Esposito took a position with the Veterans Resource Center at Auburn University in 2016, and Johnny continued to bring his ideas to Esposito for veterans at Auburn University. “He intertwined himself with us, but it wasn’t just what ‘I’m going to do,’ or ‘What you could do for me,’ but it was, ‘What we’re doing together,’” Esposito said. Johnny was a part of Operation Iron Ruck. Operation Iron Ruck involves the ROTC units and student veterans of both Auburn University and the University of Alabama marching from Auburn to Tuscaloosa, or vice versa, with the game ball before the Iron Bowl. Backwater BBQ will provide this year’s Thanksgiving meal to the student veterans and ROTC cadets who make the march. Wayne Wommack, owner of Backwater BBQ, said that this year, his business will call the 2020 meal the ‘Johnny Lawrence Memorial.’ In addition to feeding the student veterans and their families, Backwater BBQ will be feeding veterans, law enforcement, first responders and firefighters at home, too. Wommack said they hope to feed 60 families this year through donations that the community has provided. This does not include the student veterans and ROTC cadets that they will feed on Operation Iron Ruck. Wommack did not attend the meal for Operation Iron Ruck last year, but was supposed to attend with Johnny this year. “That conversation was the last eye-to-eye conversation I had with my friend,” he said. “So one of the points I’m trying to drive home this year is: don’t miss an opportunity to see your friends, see your family, tell them you love them.” Nationally, on average, 22 veterans commit suicide each day. Twenty-three commit suicide each day in Alabama, Wommack said. “Every event that we do, we try to honor a veteran, a first responder, a fireman, whoever, that has crossed a wire,” he said. “And just to make them, their family feel good about what their family member has done.” Veterans who come to Backwater BBQ for a
meal will get a complete set up. They will have some dried goods, canned goods and food made in-house. The meals will even have allergy options for those who are allergic to peanuts, for example, since the food is cooked in peanut oil, Wommack said. The student veterans and ROTC cadets will have a full meal on the march, too. “[In past years] Johnny pulls up and he unloads a smoked turkey, a fried turkey, a smoked ham, everything is sliced,” Wommack said. “There will be baked beans, potato salad, macaroni and cheese, sweet potato cassaroles. I mean, it’s a full Thanksgiving meal like you’re sitting down at grandmother’s house.” Before his death, Johnny had even more ideas for the Auburn Student Veterans Association. He dreamed of creating a Veterans Center of Excellence, Maggie said. This would be a site for a VA satellite clinic, perhaps, or give Auburn students a place to learn, practice and study in engineering or medicine. “His appreciation for those that serve carried over to his overwhelming appreciation for our military,” Lovvorn said. “Johnny was a true friend to service members and veterans. It was important to Johnny that Lee County was welcoming to all veterans, and he was always sharing ideas he had to be even more inviting for service members.” He not only supported veterans at Auburn University but was a proponent of honoring veterans at a high school level. “He also thought it was important for young people to understand the history and to understand why people serve, the pain that people go through when they serve and kind of beyond the textbook,” Maggie said. Johnny met Blake Busbin when Busbin taught Johnny’s daughter, Julia, at Auburn High School. But Johnny continued supporting the high school long after his daughter was no longer in Busbin’s class. Johnny helped to create programs to honor veterans, educate high school students and create the Auburn High School Veterans Project, which
Busbin leads. “Johnny was just such a people person that whenever we would have a call for veterans to participate, he’d send an email: ‘Hey have you talked to this person before, have you met this person before,’” Busbin, who is a social science educator at Auburn High School, said. “And just his personal connection to knowing the life story of so many veterans in our community, he was one who would always have someone he recommended we speak to.” Johnny invited The Dixie Division Military Vehicle Club to participate in an event at Auburn High School, where students and veterans alike could take a look at the different military vehicles. Johnny was known around town for his military jeep. “Johnny loved military history and finding ways to honor our veterans,” Lovvorn said. “Johnny was a great example of someone that appreciated the freedoms we enjoy, and worked to repay his civic rent through community service. He would not only attend events, he would
be a key organizer of any parade, fly-in or ceremony for our veterans.” The late commissioner often rode in these parades too, in his jeep, with a veteran at his side. Often this was Lee County Medal of Honor recipient Bennie Adkins, who passed away in April 2020. “That’s one thing that just sticks in my mind, too, is Johnny driving around, especially Bennie,” Busbin said. “Seeing the smile on Johnny’s face, being able to chauffeur around Bennie in his jeep is just an image that will aways stand out in my mind when I think of the both of them.” Johnny’s legacy lives on behind him through Maggie, his daughter Julia and the countless veterans he served in the community. “Those of us that counted Johnny as a friend, know the mold was broken after he was made,” Lovvorn said. “He would drop whatever he was doing to help any of us. As a firefighter, commissioner, photographer, family man, collector or by sharing a patriotic smile when driving the old army jeep down the road, Johnny Lawrence left Lee County better than he found it.”
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Coming Home Story By Ann Cipperly Photos Contributed By Family
ol. Eugene David Hamilton loved his country, flying and education. He grew up in Opelika and graduated from Clift High School before moving on to Auburn University to study engineering. Hamilton met his wife, Carolyn Wynell Cranford, in Opelika. They were married when she was only 15 years old. A life in the military is often uncertain. Hamilton joined the Air Force and was forced to move several times in 10 years, but he wanted some stability for his family. So the soldier moved his family back to Opelika before leaving for Vietnam.
He could have retired from the Air Force but did not want to leave his men during the war. Karyn Lynnette Powers was only six years old when her father’s plane was shot down. Hamilton’s F-105D Thunderchief was hit by enemy ground fire over Ha Tinh province on Jan. 31, 1966. The native Opelikian was listed as missing-inaction. Karyn is the youngest of the three children. Her sister, Lorinda, was nine years old, and her brother, Lamont, was seven. Karyn remembers coming home and seeing her mother and sister in the bedroom crying.
“I was very young and didn’t understand what was going on,” she said. “When the family told me my father was missing, I couldn’t grasp that he might be dead, only that he was missing. “The impact of losing a father is immense. We look to our mothers for nurturing, but we look to our fathers for protection. When you lose your father you feel unprotected.” Carolyn, Hamilton’s wife, was also from Opelika with family in the area and they continued to live in town for several years. However, when Karyn was 16 years old, the family moved to Birmingham. Over the years the family wondered what happened to the beloved husband and father. They did not know if he was killed or taken as a prisoner-ofwar. The family had been told that he radioed several times after he had been hit. He reported there was smoke in the cockpit and that there was a fire.
“The trauma of not knowing whether he was alive was difficult for the family,” Karyn said. “We felt as though he could still walk through the door. It was a sadness that was always there. He was alive in our minds all those years.” She said the family existed on hope, believing he could have been lost, had amnesia or been in a prison camp. The Department of Defense declared Hamilton legally dead in 1977. Thirty-two-year-old Hamilton’s mission, flying an armed reconnaissance mission over North Vietnam, was part of a larger operation, Operation Rolling Thunder, according to the POW Network. The mission included aircraft attacking air defense systems and the flow of supplies along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. “Airborne searches for his crash site that day were unsuccessful,” the network said. “A radio broadcast
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from Hanoi reported an F-105 had been shot down but did not provide any details. Between July 1993 and November 2000, joint U.S.-Vietnam teams, led by the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC), conducted four investigations and one excavation searching for the pilot and his plane.” One area was ruled out after a team learned from a villager in Vietnam that an excavated area in 1997 was not Hamilton’s crash site, the network said. “A second location was then excavated in August and September 2000, which did yield aircraft wreckage, personal effects and human remains,” the network said. “In 2004, three Vietnamese citizens turned over to a JPAC team remains they had found at the same crash site a year earlier.”
The remains included life support equipment and what was termed “possible human remains.” The team identified a leather name tag that read “HAMILTON” as well. “JPAC scientists and Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory specialists used mitochondrial DNA as one of the forensic tools to help identify the remains,” the network said. “Laboratory analysis of dental remains also confirmed his identity.” Karyn said it took her a while to fully comprehend what happened after the family was notified of the recovery. “All this time it had been sitting inside of me,” she said. “The impact of a life spent wondering about my father that I’ve never been able to connect to is numbing. Just the reality of putting a body with a memory is so powerful, and it’s such a miracle. I think it’s the greatest gift to have my father back home.” Karyn’s brother, Lamont, flew to Hawaii to accompany their father’s remains to Virginia for the burial with full military honors in Arlington National Cemetery. “My father was back safe on American soil,” Karyn said. “He has a resting place and full honors for laying down his life for his country. It brings a lot of healing to us.” Hamilton was laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery with a full military ceremony on June 28, 2007: his wife’s birthday. Karyn, who is an ordained minister, presided over his funeral. Her message was, ‘Col. Eugene David Hamilton exchanged one set of wings for another.’ “Welcome home, Dad,” Karyn said at his service. “It’s been a long time. We missed you, and we are proud of you. You will not be a forgotten soldier. You are our hero.”
A Second Chance, A Hand Up Story By Wil Crews Photos By Hannah Lester
irst of all, they are veterans,” said retired Marine, Lt. Col Jim Doyle, an Opelika resident and mentor in the Lee County Veterans Court Program. “I spent 26, almost 27 years in the marine corps. I know the price they paid to earn that title. I feel very strongly that whatever we can do to help them keep their lives on track or get them back on track are important. I think part of veterans court, in my mind, is an extension of the benefits that we should provide to our veterans.” Doyle, like many other retired service men and women, volunteers his time to the Lee County Veterans Court Program and plays a role in helping the veterans of Lee County – and surrounding areas – get their lives back on track. “We show them support and help mentor them so they can complete this program,” said John Wingfield, another volunteer and retired U.S. Air Force Colonel. The program that he is referring to is, of course, the Lee County Veterans Court Program, established in
2016. Director Paul “Puck” Esposito and others created and tailored the veterans’ court program for those veterans who struggle to re-integrate into civilian life once back on home soil. Often, service members return from deployment with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or other mental health issues. Additionally, the stress of duty –– followed by the stress of re-integrating into a “normal” life –– can lead to substance abuse. The first veterans court program was established in Buffalo, New York, in 2008, but before its establishment, many of these former service members would return home, struggle with service-induced issues and find themselves on the wrong side of the law. Victims of circumstance. The veterans court model is based on drug and mental health treatment and intended to give veterans with mental health issues or substance abuse issues an alternative to incarceration. Such courts can enhance public safety, lessen recidivism and are more cost effective than the typical manner of processing offenders.
The voluntary, alternative and exclusively veteran program was developed in Lee County to divert veterans who meet the strict requirements from the traditional court system and provide them with the tools to improve their quality of life and continue to be productive, responsible and law-abiding members of the community. The court creates and supervises treatment plans to address the underlying causes of veterans’ behavior and substance abuse issues. Part of that treatment plan, and an important part of the success of the program, are the veterans court mentors. These are the local former service men and women –– not in the veterans court –– who make themselves available to the veterans in the program for questions, concerns and support. “Sometimes [the veterans] just need a little encouragement and checking in on periodically,” Wingfield said. “A couple of guys I have worked with have done well. It was so encouraging to see them be successful.” In general, the mentors play an sponsor-like role for the veterans in the program. “What we do it, we just make sure they know there is someone they can turn to … to ask questions,” said mentor and retired U.S. Air Force Lt. Col Elvis Davis. “They know we will kick them in the behind if they need it but they know we are going to love to them too.” Lee County Judge Chris Hughes presides over the court and said he could not understate the role of the mentors. “I never cease to grow and respect the mentors,” Hughes said. “These are all people who have a thousand irons in the fire, but they think that these service people are important enough that they add this to the things they have to do.” Hughes said there are two main keys to being admitted into the program. The veteran’s offense has to be nonviolent and the nexus of the behavior that led to it has to be related to their service. “A committee, consisting of the court, the district attorney, a defense lawyer and some professionals in this area collaboratively decide whether some applicants who are either active duty or retired, who have unfortunately had a slip up with the law, are eligible for the program,” Hughes said.
Once admitted, the veterans will face the committee for monthly or bi-weekly checkups to ensure they are meeting the requirements of the program. There are four phases of requirements that the veterans must complete to graduate from the program. “The four phases differ in the frequency of [drug] testing and they hit milestones by doing certain amounts of community service,” Hughes said. The process typically takes anywhere from one to two years depending on the circumstances but Hughes and the mentors are there every step of the way. “Judge Hughes is amazing,” Davis said. “You will never get a better chance than right here.” Upon graduation, the veterans’ records are expunged. When summoned to court, the mentors accompany the veterans and stand by their side. “I’m glad to dedicate some of my time to show them support,” Doyle said. One veteran who was at the last veterans’ court is retired Army infantryman Matthew Corey Lindsey. He has not yet graduated but is wholeheartedly invested in the program. He described the value of the program and the changes it has brought to his life. “The deployments were tough,” he said. “They took us from civilians, re-wired us, and then put you back into civilian life and a lot of times you just don’t plug back in. Being a soldier you’re always held accountable – from the time you wake up. Going from that to nothing, it hurts a lot of us vets. Like many veterans, I encountered substance abuse as a way to cope with the PTSD. After getting into legal problems and then finding out about veterans’ court, and being a person from Troop County (on I-85, when you pass into Georgia, you’re at West Point and that’s Troop County) it was amazing that Lee County reached out. Judge Hughes and Mrs. Trish (the court administrator) accepted me and they didn’t have to. This program makes you hold yourself accountable. Whether it’s calling a drug line, taking the drug test, having some integrity, having a scaled up recovery plan, it’s one meeting a month to start off and you just pay a little fine. Then it scales up to two. Then community service gets added on top of it. It took me from a substance abuse, every single day alcohol-dependent veteran, and it gave me a choice: you can either quit or go to jail. It gave
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me, a person that’s used to integrity, a pattern. It worked right off the bat. Once I got through the first two to three months of wanting to drink, that’s when the veil came off of me. I got plugged in with the VA. Next thing you know you’re talking to a therapist and getting the right meds. My whole life turned around. I’m 10 months sober Oct. 5. I even got the clean time app on my phone just to remind me. Dec. 5 I signed the paperwork for veterans court. I sat down in Trish’s office; she told me no psychoactive substances, no alcohol, no cannabis; you can’t take cough syrup, it can make you fail your drug test. I looked at her like I used to look at my leaders in the military. That’s what us vets need … that structure.” Lindsey is just one the many success stories that have come out of the Lee County Veterans Court Program. Nineteen veterans have entered the veterans court program in the last three years and 11 have graduated. And none of it would have been possible without court administrator Trish Campbell and Denisa Bell, evaluator, whom those involved call the core of the program.
“Miss Bell and Trisha Campbell are just so caring and are really the ones that hold the program together,” Wingfield said. Naturally, it’s Judge Hughes who gets a lot of attention because he’s the one who hands down the sentences. “Judge Hughes bends over backwards and encourages them,” Wingfield continued. “Sometimes the veterans haven’t been able to do exactly what they were supposed to do and he will give them another chance. But he will take stronger action if he feels its best for them.” But, the judge knows that the program lives and dies with Bell and Campbell. “Miss. Campbell and Miss. Bell are the program; they carry the ball; they make sure the evaluations are taking place; they make sure people are getting drug tested,” Hughes said. “They are really the veterans court; the nuts and bolts. And these guys’ lives are being changed by them.” One things for certain: With the help of all those involved in the Lee County Veterans Court Program, veterans can continue to deservedly change their lives for the better for years to come.
We express our deepest appreciation for the privilege of serving your family. We get up each day and are blessed to work with a incredible group of people and serve this wonderful community.
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Dr. Joanne Smith T J
Story By Ann Cipperly Photos Contributed by Joanne Smith T
oanne Smith T was only a year old when her parents moved into their home on 8th St., in Opelika. A portrait of her mother hangs over the mantel in the cheerful room with yellow walls. The
portrait was painted in Germany, when her brother Winston Smith T was serving there. “The artist really caught her better than the picture that was sent,” Smith T said. “I don’t know how he knew how she looked.”
The home has been a sanctuary for Smith T over the years. She didn’t realize this was going to be a long-term home when she moved back to Opelika to practice medicine. She was planning on staying just a short while before returning to the mission field. “People used to ask me if I was taking care of my parents,” she said. “I told them no. It was just the opposite. They were taking care of me. We had such
use. She traveled to Korea to become a missionary and started work at the Presbyterian Medical Center. Smith T was the first internalist physician at the medical center, she started the internal medicine department and trained Korean doctors who were there for their own residencies. The doctor returned to Grady after three years to complete her final year of training. But by that time, the Vietnam War was in full swing.
a good cook, and I was so spoiled that I wouldn’t think of leaving.” Smith T studied at John Hopkins University when she was younger, before completing a residency in internal medicine at Grady Hospital. Smith T finished her education and decided to put it to practical
The government was requesting volunteer physicians and Smith T volunteered to go. But after only three months in Vietnam, she decided she would rather go as a missionary and returned to the United States. She planned to go back, under a different purpose, but before she could return to Vietnam, the
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it was their own. They baked wonderful French bread every morning.” Although there as a missionary, Smith T was not far removed from the action. Fighting would break out in different places, she said, and she spent most of her time in Saigon. “There would be rockets that came into town, but it was a big city, and if it was not too many blocks close, you didn’t feel like you were in danger,” she said. She served in Vietnam for three years, but when she returned to Opelika she didn’t know what to do next. She worked briefly at the VA Hospital in Tuskegee and also at the outpatient clinic in Columbus but knew she didn’t want to work there long term. “I couldn’t make up my mind,” she said. “So, I decided I would try private practice [in Opelika]. The last thing I wanted to do was to practice on people that I knew. That was what I ended up doing and liking the best.” She went to work at the Internal Medicine Clinic in 1976 as the first female private-practicing physician in Opelika. TET offensive occurred in Vietnam in Febru“I always thought that I would eventually go back ary 1968. overseas,” she said. “I thought the Lord would lead “It happened at Chinese New Year,” she said. “It me where He wanted me to go. But the years rolled was a big shock to everyone, as no one thought that by, and I was just so busy, I didn’t have time to think the enemy would attack on Chinese New Year. Evabout a change.” eryone thought they would celebrate and not have a Although she liked serving in Korea and Vietnam, battle. The North Vietnamese and Viet Cong, who Korea had grown and Vietnam was closed after its were the South Vietnamese opposing their own govfall, and no one could go back. ernment, attacked our troops and the South Vietnam“I always liked to spend a lot of time with my ese government troops. This was a very big offensive. patients, but there are so many other requirements The whole complexion of the war changed. I did not now,” she said. “The time you can actually spend go back then because it was not a good time.” face to face with your patients has diminished. I She waited to return to Vietnam and spent the extra didn’t like it but that just happened.” time studying the Vietnamese language. Finally, she Much to the regret of her patients, the beloved returned to Vietnam in the early summer of 1968 as doctor retired from her medical practice at the end of a missionary. She had a small clinic that met in the Decemeber 2011. church, and she taught medical students at their city “I miss it a lot,” she said. “I considered all of my pahospital. tients my personal friends. I have no regrets about com“I loved the work, Vietnam and the people very ing back to Opelika and staying. I have always loved my much,” Smith T said. “The French had been there, hometown. I have been around the world before, and I and their influences were good. I also loved the food haven’t seen anything that compares to Opelika as far as and the climate. The French influenced the cooking, I am concerned. I love the people. I think the community but they didn’t recognize it as French. They thought spirit is wonderful, and it is just a wonderful place.”
“A Welcome Land” Story By Ann Cipperly Photos By Robert Noles
hung Thi Tran was ripped from her home, her country and everything she knew. She, along with her husband and children, found their way to the United States as refugees following the Vietnam War.
They found a home in Opelika. Nhung’s husband, Nguyen De, was captured as a Viet Cong prisoner during the Vietnam War in April 1972. For the next 30 months he was forced to do hard labor, building huts while be-
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ing moved from camp to camp. He was kept in tunnels and grass huts and forced to grow his own food. He managed to escape one rainy night in 1974 by getting into a float and drifting down the river. Twelve hours later, he was discovered by government workers who thought he was deceased. The doctor was so weak that he could not walk and had lost 30 pounds during his time in the communist camp. He managed to return to Saigon to join Nhung and their two children. The family made plans to leave the country and were instructed not to tell anyone of their departure, as it would increase their chances of being shot when Saigon fell. Communist forces had surrounded the Vietnamese capital. The family fled in April 1975 with just one small suitcase. They boarded a jet at Tan Son Nhut airport and flew to Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines where the refugee process began so they could start their new life. The next day they were flown to Wake Island, to another refugee camp. Nhung had a ray of hope. She had studied medicine in Saigon under an American Physician Joanne Smith T. Joanne Smith T’s time in Vietnam was different than many of the soldiers and veterans who served in the Vietnam War. Smith T spent most of her time in the country as a missionary with a small medical clinic that met in a church.
She taught medical students at the city hospital in Saigon for three years before Vietnam fell. Nhung wrote Smith T, while at Wake Island and asked her to fund them as a sponsoring family once they arrived in the U.S. The family was flown to a refugee camp in Pendleton, California, where they lived in a tent city, waiting to find out if Smith T would sponsor them. Smith T had a love for the Vietnamese people, she said. She had studied the language and enjoyed teaching her students. Smith T organized a meeting on May 15, 1975, at the fellowship hall of the First Presbyterian Church in Opelika where local citizens who were concerned for the welfare of the refugees took steps for the sponsorship process and to secure funds for refugee families. The group was named the Vietnamese Resettlement Fellowship and included local community members such as Smith T and Barbara Patton. Opelika welcomed Nguyen De, Nhung and their two children, Nguyen Phuoc Minh Nhat and Nguyen Thi Minh Doan on June 5, 1975. The family lived with Holmes Floyd and his wife at their home on Second Avenue in front of the Opelika Mill. “It is a welcome land for us,” Nhung said. “We find everything so beautiful here. It is hard to leave our country. We did not expect to leave forever. We thought there was going to be a battle for Saigon. Two days after we
“IT IS A WELCOME LAND FOR US. WE FIND EVERYTHING SO BEAUTIFUL HERE. IT IS HARD TO LEAVE OUR COUNTRY. WE DID NOT EXPECT TO LEAVE FOREVER. WE THOUGHT THERE WAS GOING TO BE A BATTLE FOR SAIGON. TWO DAYS AFTER WE LEFT, WE FOUND OUT THAT VIETNAM WAS COMPLETELY COMMUNIST.”
left, we found out that Vietnam was completely communist.” Both Nguyen De and Nhung needed to take equivalency tests to receive their medical licenses in the United States, since the standards tor medical doctors are different in Vietnam. They also applied for U.S. citizenship as soon as they were eligible. Nhung worked at a commercial sewing business before starting her training, while Nguyen De worked with an ambulance service. The couple had another daughter while living in Opelika. Opelika was not the family’s forever home. They moved to Chicago so Nhung could start her medical training. Three years later the fam-
ily relocated to New York and Pittsburgh for her husband to finish his training. But, the family has visited their first United States home, since leaving. “I visited Opelika twice before our recent visit, but this time it was much more meaningful since I had my two daughters with me,” Nhung said. “Aline, the youngest one, was born at Lee County Hospital, and she too was very excited to come back to her birthplace.” Nhung’s husband has passed away. She is now living with their son in St. Louis, Missouri. “I fulfilled my wish to have my family come back to the place where we started our new life in the USA,” Nhung said.
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Take Care Of Our Heroes
Story By Anna King Photos By Robert Noles
eterans Day, originally Armistice Day, began in 1918. It was the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month and marked the end of World War I, “the war to end all wars.” Sadly, this has not been the end to our wars and conflicts. The men and women in our armed services have continuously sacrificed their lives and health to protect our freedom in the century that has passed. Countless veterans have given so much to protect us; it is only right that we as a nation take care of our heroes. Yet, 11% of our country’s homeless population is
veterans, and numerous live without proper healthcare or support. The question becomes: why? Is it a lack of knowledge of the benefits available? Is it a feeling that accepting these benefits is a handout and not a privilege earned? Is it the vast red tape associated with the application processes? My hope is that all veterans at least know what benefits they have earned. The first benefit veterans earn is health care. Generally, any active military, naval, air service or qualifying Reserve and National Guard members who were discharged under conditions other than dishonorable may qualify for health care. Veterans
who enlisted after Sept. 7, 1980, or who entered active duty after Oct. 16, 1981, must have served 24 continuous months or their full period of active duty to qualify. To apply by phone, call 1-877222-VETS (8387). The second benefit veterans earn is disability compensation. The VA pays veterans who sacrificed their health in service by providing a monthly tax-free payment. Veterans who suffer from physical conditions, such as hearing loss, scar tissue, breathing problems or loss of range of motion and mental health conditions, such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder that developed before, during or after service may qualify if the condition can be linked to the veteran’s service in some way. Additionally, veterans may be eligible for other types of disability compensation once a disability has been determined to be service connected. Special VA disability compensation programs include: individual unemployability, automobile allowance, clothing allowance, hospitalization, convalescence, dental and birth defects. The fourth benefit veterans earn is Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (“DIC”). This benefit is paid to the surviving spouse, child or parent of a service member who died in the line of duty, or the survivor of a veteran who died from a service-related injury or illness. Like disability compensation, DIC is also a monthly tax-free payment. Another benefit veterans earn is Special Monthly Compensation. This is a higher rate of compensation
paid due to special circumstances such as the need of aid and attendance by another person or by specific disability, such as loss of use of one hand or leg. For spouses and surviving spouses, this benefit is commonly referred to as aid and attendance and is paid based on the need of aid and attendance by another person. To assist with the red tape, veterans may want to work with an accredited attorney, a claims agent or a Veterans Service Officer. These professionals are trained and certified in the VA claims and appeals processes to help with VA-related needs. Veterans are 86% more likely to get benefits with the help of an attorney versus trying alone. Accredited attorneys work on a contingency basis so they only get paid if they are successful. Also, most offer a free consultation.
After such great sacrifice in answering the call of duty, it is unacceptable that any veteran not receive the help that they earned protecting our country. This is something that we as a nation cannot not stand for. So I urge all Americans: let’s work together to make sure our beloved veterans are getting the benefits they so dutifully earned.
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Far From Ordinary
Story By Wil Crews Photos By Robert Noles
resident Lyndon B. Johnson was given broad authority to increase U.S military presence in Vietnam in August 1964. For the first time since America had intervened, Johnson deployed combat units and octupled American forces to 184,000. The U.S. military drafted 2.2 million young American men between 1964 and 1973, to go to war with South Vietnam to fight the North Vietnam Army, the Viet Cong and their communist allies – namely the Soviet Union and China. James Frank Hughley, Opelika native, was one of those 2.2 million. The amorphous reasons for which the U.S. became heavily involved in Vietnam have been heavily debated; but Hughley’s involvement –– like many misjudged soldiers –– was a honorable
declaration to selflessness and duty. Hughley grew up in Opelika his life intimately integrated with the outdoors and the farm that he lived on. The future solider and his family moved into the city where he attended and graduated J.W. Darden High School when Hughley was in the eighth grade. Hughley began working at the West Point Pepperell Mill at the corner of South Ninth St., and Avenue A in Opelika after school. If he envisioned living out his youthful golden years working the typical 9-to-5; those dreams would have to wait. Now, years later, with his weather-worn Hughley’s Garage button-up, vintage Auburn Tigers ball cap and Price is Right on in the background, Hughley sat down in his office to discuss how his two years of
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involuntary military service changed his life. GOING TO VIETNAM Hughley was drafted in 1967 at the age of 19. He recalls the day he went to the draft office. “Miss. Margaret Sellers was head of the program,” he said as he refrained from hiding his initial contempt for the person who was in charge of shipping him off to a foreign country to risk his life. “When we left from there, the only thing she told us was, ‘I want you boys make us proud.’” Those words stuck with him. Hughley and his classmates trailed just over 30 miles from Opelika to Cusseta, Georgia, to begin basic training at Fort Benning. From there, he traveled to Fort McClellan for advanced infantry training (AIT). There were only 18 days between AIT and shipping off for Vietnam. It took a year, but once Hughley returned home, he had a renewed perspective on Sellers and the war itself. “I realized she had a job to do, and I had a job to do,” he said. THE HEAT OF BATTLE There was barely time for goodbyes and no time for panic. Hughley, like most soldiers, was leaving something behind. “I was worried,” he said. “My girlfriend was pregnant, I didn’t want to go, but I went on a leap of faith. I was praying that I came back, my mother was praying, the whole family was praying.” Action dictates life or death in Vietnam, however. Not only did Hughley and his fellow soldiers have to cope with the enemy, it was often the environment that presented the biggest challenges. “The climate was blistering hot,” Hughley said. “You had monsoon season. Helicopters can’t even fly because the fog around the mountains and the air would pull them into the mountain to crash. You had to worry about leaches; had to carry socks and dry powder.” Oh, and the enemies? “The enemy set booby traps, they ambushed a lot, you had to be aware every second,” Hughley said. Initially, Hughley said he adapted to Vietnam rather quickly. “Once I got over there, I fit in. You kind of pattern after someone who had been there and learned the ropes.”
He believes that his countryside upbringing helped him adjust. “I had an advantage,” he said. “I knew the different smells because I was raised in the woods. I could look at the twigs and you can tell somebody been through there. If something didn’t look right, you can tell that’s a booby trap. They used fishing line, you have to go slow to see it but fishing line got no business in the jungle.” Hughley rose to the rank of squad leader and soon experienced the daunting reality of battle first-hand. “It was 12 o’clock at night when I got hit,” he said. “We were being overrun and a mortar round hit right behind my shoulder.” Hughley said it was just like on TV where it propels the soldier back through the air. “It felt like somebody hit me with a brick and knocked me over.” Still, as the enemy was closing in, Hughley had no time to think about himself. “One guy in our position was killed and another wounded,” he said. “I was the squad leader so I had to tend to them.” The fighting eventually slowed and gunships came over to secure the area for the U.S. forces. That’s when Hughley realized: “It was raining. I could feel something dripping off my hand.” He turned to another soldier and said, “shine the light on me. That’s when the other soldier told Hughley, “that’s not rain, you’re bleeding bad,” –– so bad in fact, that the medic wouldn’t even tell Hughley the extent of his injury. He was offered morphine –– which he bravely declined –– as he was eager to help remove the dead and aide the injured. “My other guys are down there, I got to go,” he told the doctor. But there was nothing he could do, his arm was completely numb and he wasn’t even fit to carry a rifle. Now remember, Hughley was hit at midnight. It was nine o’clock the next night before he got to the hospital to have an operation. “They told me I lost so much blood they couldn’t put me to sleep.” Hughley said. “They’re going through the operation and I’m lying there looking at it hearing them picking the metal out. [The doctor] said, ‘We cut all we can cut to get it out. You tell us if you want us to keep
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“Our policy was so conflicted in that way,” he said. “They said you are not to fire unless you are fired on. You in a war, that don’t make sense. If you walk up to a village and you see them with a weapon, you supposed to wait until they fire at you, kill one of your man. What you supposed to do?” That’s a question unthinkable to many of us, but a daily reality to Hughley during his time on tour. Once back in the states, he spent a year at Fort Benning, training rangers and officer candidates. He left the military two years after entering, in 1969. He settled and started working at the Uniroyal tire manufacturing plant – later changed to the BFGoodrich Tire Manufacturing plant before it closed in 2009.
going, you may not use your shoulder again, or leave it in there it will work out through your skin.’ I told them to just leave it in there … I had to sign with my left hand.” Over the course of his tour, Hughley was wounded twice more, once in the leg and once in the chest –– an inch away from his heart. He later learned that he was supposed to be sent home earlier, but a year passed and it was finally his turn to come home. COMING HOME For many soldiers, and Hughley alike, the relief and excitement that came with returning home quickly soured. “When you come back, half the people didn’t like you just because you were over there,” he said. “We were spit on, called baby killers. They would say the meanest things, and you just got done fighting for them.” But Hughley was now a war-hardened, grizzled vet; he didn’t let that get the best of him. If nothing else, he had come back in one piece. “I felt like I had accomplished something,” he said. “It was a year of hardship but I learned a lot.” Overall, Hughley holds his head high knowing that his time in Vietnam was spent doing the right thing –– trying to keep the peace. Still, there were things that made him question the sanity of the cause.
CIVILIAN LIFE Thanks to his VA benefits, Hughley didn’t stay at Uniroyal for long. “I started to prepare for a better life,” he said. “I married my girlfriend, and in 1970 I started school at Opelika Tech (now Southern Union). I graduated, and got [his garage]. I started across the St., and been in this business ever since (1973).” He now spends nearly every day Hughley Garage & Service, and when he thinks about his time in Vietnam, he said he has no regrets. “I’m grateful for the experience. I didn’t want to go, but after coming back, I’m glad I did. When something comes on TV or something in the newspaper comes out about it, I know if that didn’t happen, if that’s not right.” Hughley said he hasn’t been back to Vietnam, but he would like to go. “I said I wouldn’t,” he said. “But now it’s changed so much and it’s modern. I’d like to go see how it looks now compared to how it was when I was there. You see now they got casinos. It’s a paradise. The U.S. had good trade relations. I guess something good came out of it.” Hughley spends his time advocating for other veterans to receive their benefits when he’s not working in the shop. “The VA takes good care of me,” he said. “They didn’t want to though. I had to fight haRoad, They tried to tell me being wounded three times was ordinary.” For his valiant efforts, Hughley ended up with three purple hearts and a bronze star. That seems far from ordinary. Hats off to you Mr. Hughley, an American and Opelika hero.
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A Veterans Day Birthday Story and Photos By Bradley Robertson
y birthday is Nov. 11, 1980. This was not by chance but was due to practical thought by my mother. She was a schoolteacher and in true work fash-
ion, she knew she would be off that day, and so I was born. I remember thinking in elementary school that it was very cool to always be “off” on my birthday. I
knew that it was Veterans Day, but I never realized the And suffer I did, but nothing compared to American importance until I was older. I was a typical child of soldiers. The race began with the Pledge of Allegiance the ‘80s and ‘90s, having skate parties, friends over for and a prayer. I cried the entire time and could not even cupcakes and once my mother even brought a filmstrip get out the words. It was moving, and I felt the honesty over from her school. in freedom. I ran past homes of soldiers for miles and I was too self absorbed in highschool and college to miles, waving and saying, “Thank you” when I could. think anything of the special birthday I held. It was not The race ended, and I survived through prayer and petiuntil adulthood that I began to clearly see and undertion. But in my mind, I knew it was nothing, nothing stand the honor I held in sharing my birthday with our compared to what our soldiers truly do for our country. own national heroes, our veterans. I have attended city events honoring our veterans Six years ago, I made up my mind that I would begin and the Veterans Day program at my children’s school, to do something special every year on my birthday Lee-Scott Academy. It’s a gift to see and hear a veteran to honor veterans. I had a tug at my heart to visit the speak about his or her experience. It’s a gift to see old, Tuskegee VA hospital, and so it became first on my feeble men stand and salute the flag that is so important agenda. I had no clue where it was or what it was like; I to their being. It’s a gift to see parents in uniform stand had only heard of it. I had no plan but to speak to veter- with their children in school and see what a sacrifice ans and let them know they are still they made. It is all an honor, and “WE ARE FREE BECAUSE you cannot really feel it until you remembered. I looked the VA up on the map put yourself in it. OTHERS SUFFERED. app in my cell phone and took My grandfather, John T. NetWE ARE FREE BECAUSE my young son along with me. We tles, fought in World War II. He LIVES WERE LOST. WE pulled into what appeared to be an passed away when I was only CAN SAY FREEDOM old school campus of sorts that you 15, and I never took the chance could tell was once a lively and or opportunity to speak with him OVER AND OVER AND thriving environment. But that day, about his U.S. service. However, OVER AGAIN, BUT WE it appeared empty and desolate I feel a close connection to him WILL NEVER TRULY except for one larger hospital-style every year on my birthday. He UNDERSTAND IT THE facility in the very back of the was the navigator on a bomber complex. WAY OUR VETERANS DO.” airplane in the Pacific Ocean, and I parked my car, took Braxton he was awarded a Purple Heart by the hand and walked into the unknown. We spent Medal. His story is the greatest gift to me. the next two hours meeting a few of the residents and We are free because others suffered. We are free listening to their stories. Some were very old and had because lives were lost. We can say freedom over and fought long ago in Vietnam; some were still young and over and over again, but we will never truly understand had fought recently in the Gulf War or Afghanistan. it the way our veterans do. I was on the verge of tears the entire time seeing that This year on my birthday, I would like to find a these men had done a noble thing for me, and they still World War II museum to track the path of my grandfelt the suffering it took on everyone. father. I would like to learn more of his story and what It was a hard reality but one I will never forget. that looked like for him and other soldiers. I do not The following year I decided to run the Ft. Benning know yet where it will take me, but I’m willing to go. Soldier Half Marathon. Before this year, I would have I encourage all people who are not veterans to called myself a seasoned runner. I used to run often and take the time to feel and see the reality of war. What race often. However, when I chose to run this particular museums are available to visit? Do you know a race, I was not “in season.” But I thought to myself, veteran personally you can go visit? Is there a local “All the more reason to go. If soldiers can suffer and school or city event you can go to? Do something, fight for me, surely I can suffer through 13.1 miles for do anything. Just be sure you take time to honor our them?” American soldiers.
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Honoring Auburn’s MIA Story and Photos By Hannah Lester
ne day—it could be far in the future or tomorrow afternoon—one of Auburn’s missing-in-action alumni may be found. Charles Hendrix said he is terrified that they will come, they will tell Auburn that alumnus and soldier Max Morris has been found and no one will care. “Max Addams Morris of Aniana, Alabama, was one of the greatest students ever to come through
Alabama Polytechnic Institute,” said Hendrix, vice president of the Auburn Heritage Association. This year marks the 70th anniversary of Morris’ missing-in-action pronouncement, Hendrix said, and a flagpole will be dedicated in the spring in his honor. Morris was an Auburn Tiger before he served, and his life of heroism began early. He was still a student when he was awarded the Carnegie Medal of heroism for saving the life of a fellow cadet at a summer camp in Fort Benning. Morris graduated from Auburn University in 1942 before his commission as a U.S. Army officer and eight years in service. “He went on and fought bravely in World War II,” Hendrix said. “He’s part of the greatest generation that ever existed.” Morris has a marker dedicated to his life already, located in front of the Nichols Center on Auburn’s campus. “I think he’s one of the most underrated alumni we’ve ever had,” Hendrix said. A ceremony will be held in the spring in his honor at Pine Tucket Cemetery. The ceremony was supposed to be held in September, but due to Hurricane Sally, it had to be postponed. Pine Tucket Cemetery is located on Auburn University’s campus but is considered private property, Hendrix said. A United States flag and a MIA/POW flag are being flown on the flagpole that has been erected, Hendrix said. “We’re going to be doing an official first
flag raising,” he said. “I’ve got a gentleman from ROTC, a Marine Gunnery Sergeant, he’s going to be there to raise the flag. We’re going to be playing ‘To The Colors’, as the flag goes
up.” Although the ceremony won’t be held until the spring, the flagpole has been installed and can be seen in Pine Tucket Cemetery.
607 S. 6th Street Opelika, AL 36801
Remember • Respect • Revere
Forever Our Hero Story By Live Lee Staff with Contribution By Morgan Bryce Photos By Robert Noles —76—
ee County lost one of its heroes on April 17, 2020, when Ret. Command Sgt. Maj. Bennie Adkins passed away in Opelika. Adkins was born in Waurika, Oklahoma, in 1934, drafted into the U.S. Army in 1956, completed his basic training at Fort Bliss (in Texas) and attended Airborne School and volunteered for Special Forces while at Fort Benning in Georgia. His military service spanned 22 years. Any soldier who enlists to serve their country is a hero, but there are those who go above and beyond, sacrificing their well-being or lives. Adkins was awarded a Medal of Honor for his service in Vietnam. The unit Adkins was serving in (Detachment A-102, 5th Special Forces Group, 1st Special Forces) was attacked in 1966 by enemy soldiers at Camp A Shau in the Republic of Vietnam, according to the official Medal of Honor citation, which can be found on the army website (www.army.mil/medalofhonor/ adkins/). The enemies laid down accurate mortar fire on the Americans’ position for three hours on the first morning of the battle. The mortar fire and more precise efforts of enemies on foot left the camp’s outer fence, claymore minefield and wire perimeter wide open. An AC-47 airplane, loaded with supplies for the American garrison, was met with cheers upon its arrival. It was shot down by enemy antiaircraft fire, and its cargo never saw American hands, the citation said. The Camp A Shau after-action report had the following to say about that incident: The demoralization of the A Shau garrison resulting from this downing of the AC-47 centered around the following fears: (1) That the enemy was capable of preventing friendly air support, even when weather would permit air operations; (2) That friendly air units would not support the camp because of the effectiveness of enemy anti-aircraft fires; (3) That reinforcements or a counterattack force would not be flown in because of the anti-aircraft fire. The first fear was partially correct, the second was completely unjustified and the third was completely correct.
Adkins, then Sergeant First Class, distinguished himself for the Medal of Honor, which is the highest and most prestigious military decoration that is awarded to U.S. military service members, during this battle and during the escape following. “[Adkins] distinguished himself by acts of gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty . . . during combat operations against an armed enemy at Camp A Shau, Republic of Vietnam from March 9 to 12, 1966,” the citation said. Adkins manned a mortar position during the part of the battle when his position was receiving the most intense mortar fire from the enemy. He manned the position through direct hits to the mortar pit from which he incurred the wounds that would earn him the Purple Heart Medal. The reason he eventually left that mortar position (in the hands of another soldier) was to get to several wounded soldiers near the center of camp and drag them to safety while running through exploding mortar rounds and later exposing himself to sniper fire. “Lieutenant Mari and Sergeant Adkins left the communications bunker at 1720 hours, after covering the withdrawal of the other men in the bunker, and went to the center bunker on the north wall where mortally wounded Sergeant Taylor lay on a stretcher,” said the after action report, which can be found on the army website (www.army.mil/e2/downloads/rv7/medalofhonor/adkins_sloat/camp_a_shau_after_action_report. pdf). “Mari and Adkins carried Taylor through the wall trench to the north wall side gate. Sergeant Adkins killed an enemy soldier who got in his way in the trench.” The citation estimates that during the 86 hours of battle and escape, Adkins killed between 135 and 175 enemies and received 18 wounds himself. He fought using mortars, machine guns, recoilless rifles, small arms and hand grenades. CIVILIAN LIFE: Adkins graduated from the Sergeant Major Academy after Vietnam and returned to the Special Forces at Fort Bragg. He then led training at Fort Sherman’s Jungle Operations Training Center before retiring from the Army in 1978. “When Bennie retired from the Army, we moved to the area from the Panama Canal Zones where he retired
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as the Command Sargent Major of the Jungle Training School,” said Bennie’s daughter, Mary Ann Blake. “My mother, Mary Adkins, is originally from the Opelika area.” President Obama presented Adkins with the Medal of Honor in 2014. Adkins also received the following over the course of his military career: Combat Infantryman badge, Master Parachutist Badge, Expert Marksmanship Badge with Rifle and Pistol bars, Sharpshooter Marksmanship Badge with Carbine bar, Marksmanship Badge with Machine gun bar, Vietnamese Master Parachutist Badge (twice), Bronze Star Medal, Purple Heart and others. “My brothers and I see him not just as a National Treasure, but most of all, a wonderful father,” Blake said. “Both of our parents taught us dignity, a respect for ourselves and others, a dedicated work ethic.” Adkins earned three degrees from Troy University (one bachelor’s and two master’s) after his retirement from the military. He opened an accounting business in Auburnwhich he operated for 22 years. He also taught classes at Southern Union and Auburn University. The retired Medal of Honor recipient wrote a book, with help from Katie Lamar Jackson, about the battle of Camp A Shau. It is called, “A Tiger Among Us: A Story of Valor in Vietnam’s A Shau Valley.” BENNIE ADKINS MEETING CENTER: Lee County wanted to celebrate its Medal of Honor recipient, so in 2014, the county renamed the Lee County Meeting Center to the Bennie Adkins Meeting Center. Late Lee County Commissioner Johnny Lawrence spearheaded the project after attending Adkins’s Medal of Honor ceremony in Washington with Adkins. That experience would set into the motion the idea of creating a space named in Adkins’s honor that would recognize his contributions and service, according to Lawrence. Fellow commissioners voiced their support for Lawrence’s plan in 2016, enabling him to proceed with the project. Lawrence found a group of sophomore Auburn University engineering students who were willing to conceptualize and develop a plan for the facility’s layout and interior design. “They came back to me with all these great ideas and I was sitting there thinking to myself how I wish I had
a 50,000 square foot building with 20-foot ceilings in it that were blank and design something utilizing all of these concepts,” Lawrence said, in a previous interview. “They included static military displays and some other stuff we really liked.” After conversations with Adkins about what the focus of the center’s artwork and decorations should be, they decided to blend the ideas of a military tribute and community service together. “As a member of the Green Berets (U.S. Special Forces unit), Adkins and his colleagues were there to help build communities,” Lawrence said in that interview. “And that’s ultimately what led us to the center focusing on community.” The military exhibit includes an interactive kiosk for children to learn more about Adkins, fellow Opelika native Col. Robert Howard and the rest of the Medal of Honor recipient family. Through a partnership with the Local VA office and the Red Cross, children are also able to write thank-you notes to active service members in a conference room simply known as “Bennie’s Room.” “Bennie appreciates Commissioner Lawrence and all of Lee County, the city of Opelika the city of Auburnas well as everyone who made this happen,” said a statement from the Bennie Adkins Foundation at the time. “He also wants to thank the (Auburn University) students and instructors for their talent and hard work to make this happen. Bennie is honored that his community is naming the center after him.” BENNIE ADKINS FOUNDATION: The Bennie Adkins Foundation, run by two of Adkins’s surviving children (Mary Ann Adkins Blake and W. Keith Adkins), among others, is a nonprofit with a mission “to honor the legacy of courage, sacrifice, selfless service and patriotism inherent in the Special Forces by providing educational scholarships to worthy soldiers to aid in their transition from military to civilian life,” according to the foundation’s website. The scholarships are a big part of what the foundation does and are provided to veterans in the area. “Applicants must be Special Forces Soldiers (E5-E9) on active duty, recently separated (within 5 years), or retired (within 5> years),” said the foundation’s website (www.bennieadkinsfoundation.org/scholarship-application).
“The applicant must have been accepted by or already attending an accredited college, university or vocational institution.” The application is available on the website, along with ways to donate or support the foundation. “The Bennie Adkins Foundation purpose is to help warriors (Special Forces soldiers) transition from military life into civilian life through education,” Blake said. “[The] foundation provides scholarships to special forces soldiers. Bennie began this foundation as a way of giving back. Education is what helped Bennie after coming out of Vietnam and retiring.” REMEMBERING: Unfortunately, Opelika could not hold onto its hero forever. Adkins passed away in April 2020 after he was admitted to East Alabama Medical Center and listed in critical condition on March 26. He was put on a ventilator after experiencing respiratory failure as a result of COVID-19. He died three weeks later, at 86 years old, of complications from the disease. He is preceded in death by his wife, Mary Adkins,
sons Dennis Adkins and Wayne Adkins, and survived by daughter, Mary Ann Adkins Blake (David), and sons Michael Adkins (Christine) and W. Keith Adkins (Jaime), brothers Gerrol Adkins (June) and Jim Adkins (Katie), as well as, many grandchildren, great grandchildren and extended family. The funeral service for CSM (ret.) Bennie G. Adkins, Medal of Honor recipient, is scheduled for Dec. 16, 2020, at Arlington National Cemetery beginning at 9 a.m. EST at the post chapel. Burial will follow at section 12A, grave 552, where he will join his wife, Mary N. Adkins. The Special Forces Charitable Trust will host a brunch after the burial. “This man stands for and is an example of all that is right, just and pure about our great nation,” said Lee County Sheriff Jay Jones in a previous interview with the Opelika Observer. “He is and will forever be a hero. He was devoted to his family, his comrades in arms and his friends. If you ever had the honor of meeting him, you learned quickly that his thoughts were not of himself but of others to whom he always gave the credit. If you wish to know what a great man looks like –– just (look at him.)”
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VA Benefits Story by the Live Lee Staff Photos By Hannah Lester
he Veterans Administration is a national organization that, through its state and local offices, offers many services and benefits to veterans and their dependents. Here is a brief summary of the programs and benefits available. (Most of this information can be found and utilized on the VA website, va.gov or va.alabama.gov) HOUSING AND HOME LOAD GUARANTEES FOR VETERANS Need to buy or refinance a home? A Veterans Administration (VA) Home Loan is available to veterans who qualify. You can buy or refinance a home mortgage with as little as $0 down, with great rates and financing up to $424,000, according to the VA website. VOCATIONAL READINESS AND EMPLOYMENT (VR&E) Veterans have Vocational Readiness and Employment (VR&E) services available to them through the Veterans Administration. The Administration provides job training, employment accommodations, help with resumes and job seeking coaching, according to the VA website. There is also assistance for those who are starting their own business. Veterans who are unable to work can reach out for independent living services. “VA’s Education and Career Counseling program is a great opportunity for Veterans and Service members to get personalized counseling and support to help guide their career paths, ensure the most effective use of their VA benefits, and achieve their goals,” the website said. LOCAL VETERANS EMPLOYMENT PROGRAM (LVER) The Local Veterans Employment Program, LVER, is an outreach program that connects employers, veterans
organizations, unions and more with local veterans. Different cities and counties often have different opportunities available and LVER keeps veterans up to date on what they can receive in their area. It works with veterans to place them in federally-funded employment and training programs. It also assists veterans in developing job interviewing and resume writing skills, as well as conduct a productive job search and access job listings through electronic data bases, including Americas Job Bank. VETERANS SMALL AND DISADVANTAGED BUSINESS ASSISTANCE Own a small business in town? Reach out to the Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization. “The Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization helps small businesses obtain information on acquiring contracts with VA,” the VA website said. “Like other federal offices, VA is required to place a portion of its contracts and purchases with small and disadvantaged businesses. VA also promotes business with veterans by encouraging VA contracting offices to include veteran-owned contractors in mailings to solicit bids. “These businesses are identified from the Procurement Automated Source System and Procurement Marketing and Access Network through the internet, which are maintained by the Small Business Administration.” Lee County residents can get in contact with the Veterans Service
Officer for Lee County, Sean Gaithers, by calling (334-7373626) or visiting the office located inside the Command Sargeant Maj. Bennie Adkins Meeting Center at 205 S. 10th Street in Opelika. The office serves Autauga, Bibb, Calhoun, Chambers, Chilton, Choctaw, Clay, Cleburne, Coosa, Dallas, Elmore, Greene, Hale, Jefferson, Lee, Marengo, Perry, Randolph, Shelby, Sumter, Talladega, Tallapoosa, Tuscaloosa and Wilcox counties. Veterans can reach the District II Manager, Robert “Bob” Higgins or the Administrative Support Assistant, Debra Perry at (205-5543572). THE ALABAMA G.I. DEPENDENTS SCHOLARSHIP PROGRAM Dependents of veterans, spouses, children, stepchildren or widow(er)s hav the opportunity to receive education money through The Alabama G.I. Dependents Scholarship. The scholarship was created by Act 633 by the Alabama Legislature in 1947, according to the VA website. The veteran must be approved through the Alabama Department of Veterans Affairs and meet certain qualifications. Military Service Requirements: A veteran needs to have served 90 days in continuous federal military service or been honorably discharged due to disability obtained in service to qualify. Disability Requirements: Veterans must rate 40% or more due to service disabilities, held a qualifying rating at death, be held as a prisoner of war, declared missing in action or died
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while in service or as a result of a service disability. More information regarding exceptions or disability ratings can be found on the va.alabama.gov website. Veteran Residency Requirements: The veteran must have been a permanent Alabama resident for a year prior to service and a current Alabama resident for at least two years before applying for the scholarship. Alternatively, the veteran can still apply if discharged from service within 12 months before applying. The veteran needs to have filed a resident Alabama income tax return in the past decade before applying. Additionally, the veteran needs to be a permanent Alabama resident for at least five years before the application or the veteranâ€™s death. This applies to 100% permanent and total ratings only. Students who apply need to be a current Alabama resident, complete a Federal Student Aid application each year they are to receive the scholarship, meet the Standards of Satisfactory Academic Progress and complete the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act release form. Dependents, children and stepchildren, of the veteran can receive 10 semesters at any Alabama state-supported institution or state-supported technical college. The semesters must be used within eight years of applying. However, children must use the funds before they turn 26. There are situations (which can be found on the va.alabama. gov website, where children can continue to use benefits through age 30.) In order for stepchildren to qualify, the parent and veteran must have been married before the child turned 19. The spouses of a qualified veteran, or un-remained widow(er)s, of veterans rated 100% disabled can received 10 semesters. The spouse must use the semesters within eight years. Spouses, or un-remarried widow(er)s, of veterans rated 20 to 90% disabled can receive six semesters to be used within six years of application. Tuition is limited to $250 per semester hour and there is a cap on books and fees of $1,000 a semester. Other scholarships or grants must be applied before the Alabama G.I. Dependent Scholarship Program will be applied. TUITION WAIVER FOR PURPLE HEART RECIPIENTS Purple Heart Medal Recipients may have their tuition and fees waived in public two and four year colleges in Alabama, including technical, community and junior colleges, according to the VA website.
VA MEDICAL CENTERS AND HOSPITALS Lee County residents need to travel to Montgomery, Tuskegee, Birmingham or Tuscaloosa to find VA medical facilities. VA Hospitals have been serving veterans since the 1940s, with medical and pharmaceutical care at reasonable cost. Here is a list of the services offered by the VA Health Administration in the Alabama area: -Blindness Rehabilitation -Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Care -Traumatic Brain Injury Care -Agent Orange Exposure Gulf War Syndrome and Related Illnesses Care -Radiation Exposure Treatment -HIV/AIDS Treatment -Alcohol/Drug Dependency Treatment -Blind Veterans Service -CHAMPVA -Combat Veteran Healthcare Eligibility -Online Health Services for veterans Alabama offers several additional services through its state funded veterans program in addition to the federal VA programs. ALABAMA STATE VETERANS HOME PROGRAM Veterans in need of assisted living or home care can find an alternative through the VA in the form of the Alabama State Veterans Home Program. Lee County residents must look no further than Alexander City to the Bill Nichols Site Veterans Home. The home includes a 24-hour nursing staff, 24-hour on-call physician, speech, occupational and physical therapy and a pharmacy.
ALABAMA STATE VETERANS MEMORIAL CEMETERY The Alabama State Veterans Memorial Cemetery at Spanish Fort was dedicated in 2012 and has 2,776 sites on the 22.8 acres. Veterans can pre-register for burials at the cemetery for themselves and spouses. The cemetery does not charge an upfront cost. To register, a veteran will need their discharge certification. To register a spouse, the marriage certificate is required. To reach Cemetery Directory Tony Ross or Assistant Cemetery Director Joseph S. Buschell call (251-625-1338). VETERAN DRIVER LICENSE Alabama veterans have the opportunity to visit an Alabama Law Enforcement Agency Driver License Office and request that their military service be displayed on their drivers license, according to the VA website. The veteran can also visit a License Commissionerâ€™s or Probate Office to complete the process. The veteran must present a DD-214 form from the Department of Defense. There is no charge associated with the process if the applicant is renewing their license or applying for the first time, according to the website. There is a fee if the veteran wants to complete the process before their license is up for renewal. FRESHWATER FISHING LICENSE Disabled Veterans, rated 20% or more, can apply for a discounted fee for an Alabama freshwater fishing license according to the VA website. The license can be obtained at the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries District Office, Probate or License Commission Office.
City of Auburn
OVID-19 has thrown a wrench in many of our plans this year, including the celebrations we hold each Memorial Day and Veterans Day to honor our community’s veterans. And though we haven’t been able to gather together, we have not forgotten. We haven’t forgotten the bravery of the men and women who responded to the call. We haven’t forgotten the courage they showed as they stood in defense of our freedoms. We haven’t forgotten the lives that have been lost in the line of duty. And we haven’t forgotten the struggles many have endured as they’ve returned home from war. This Veterans Day, let us all remember. Let us take the time to say thank you to a veteran, whether we know them or not. Because they deserve our respect, honor and gratitude. Veterans, we thank you for making the freedoms we enjoy every day possible, and we salute you this Veterans Day. With gratitude, Auburn Mayor Ron Anders Jr. —85—
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City of Opelika
eterans Day is always a special day in Opelika as we honor the brave men and women who answered the call to serve and protect that which we hold dear: our freedom. It’s a day to reflect on the sacrifices and commitments made by our friends, neighbors, sons and daughters in uniform. And it’s a day to remember –– freedom isn’t free ––and that our courageous soldiers who fought for that very freedom deserve respect and recognition for their service. We may not know them all, but we owe them a great deal of gratitude for their strength and pride in our country. To our veterans, we deeply appreciate all of you. We send you healing, love and pray for you and your family. On behalf of our community, our state and our nation, we thank you. We are indebted to you and stand with you today and always. God bless the United States of America, the state of Alabama and the city of Opelika. Opelika Mayor Gary Fuller
THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE.
VETERANS DAY VIRTUAL SERVICE November 9, 2020 6 p.m. (online) YouTube Channel (@OpelikaCityGov)
“Honor to the soldier and sailor everywhere, who bravely bears his country’s cause. Honor, also, to the citizen who cares for his brother in the field and serves, as he best can, the same cause.” - Abraham Lincoln
e all are glad to see the end of this tumultuous year on the horizon, and a Veteran’s Day is a great time to think and reflect on a very important segment of our country that has been there for us through challenging times like these as well as the good. Like so many others in our great country, I am related to a veteran, that veteran being my father Fred Copeland Sr. He served in the Vietnam War and witnessed first-hand how hellish war can truly be. Here in Smiths Station, veterans account for a significant portion of our city’s residents. We have an assisted living facility named Loving Touch that one of our citizens runs that provides excellent, loving care to elderly veterans. Others are retired and enjoy living their lives here in our beautiful, quiet and small Alabama city that we all consider home. There are many future veterans who reside here in Smiths Station. Some are Army personnel and daily drive across the Chattahoochee River to Fort Benning where they train and prepare to preserve our freedoms and defend us from enemies both domestic and abroad. I wish I could think of a proper way to truly and adequately thank our veterans, but the best way to say it is thank you. Thank you for putting your country before yourself and enabling us to enjoy a quality of life unlike any found elsewhere in the world. For that, we are truly grateful. Sincerely, Smiths Station Mayor F.L. “Bubba” Copeland
City of Smiths Station —88—
WE WOULD LOVE TO GIVE YOU A HAND IN YOUR LEGAL ENDEAVORS INCLUDING: • criminal • personal injury • family law • social security • probate law
Hand Law Firm, LLC 114 N 8th Street Opelika, AL 36801 (334)-741-4077 | www.HandLawFirm.com No representation is made that the quality of legal service to be performed is greater than the quality of legal services performed by other lawyers.
VETERANS DAY DISCOUNTS Every year businesses across the nation offer discounts on Veterans Day as a way of showing honor to veterans for their service. This list is provided as a courtesy and is not exhaustive. Discounts are subject to change without notice. Veterans should be prepared to show indentification if requested.
Country’s Barbecue: 50% of Meal with ID or Uniform 1021 Opelika Road, Auburn 334.821.8711
Frutta Bowl Auburn: 10% off 211 W Glenn Ave., Auburn 334.521.5221 www.fruttabowls.com
Applebee’s Neighborhood Grill: 10% Discount 1627-34 Opelika Road, Auburn 334.887.7747 www.applebees.com/en/restaurants-auburnal/1627-34-opelika-road-8437 Auburn Nutrition: Always Offers a Military Discount 715 E Glenn Ave., Ste. 201 Auburn 334.734.0570 Bruster’s Real Ice Cream: 10% Discount 2172 E. University Dr., Auburn 334.821.9988 brusters.com/auburn/ Charlie’s Family Kitchen: Free meal for veterans on Veterans Day 2990 E. University Drive, Ste. 160, Auburn 334.501.2070 www.charliesfamilykitchenauburn.com Chicken Salad Chick: Complimentary Drink and Chick Special 1345 Opelika Road, Suite A Auburn 334.459.9752 www.chickensaladchick.com/auburn-opelika/ Chipotle Mexican Grill : Buy One/Get One Free on Burritos, Salads and Tacos 346 W Magnolia Ave., Auburn 334.821.7740 locations.chipotle.com/al/auburn/346-wmagnolia-ave CiCi’s Pizza: Complimentary Buffet 1550 Opelika Road, Auburn 334.821.2600
Dunkin Donuts: Complimentary Donut 2049 S. College St., Auburn 334.501.2233
Great American Cookie Company: Complimentary Cookie 1627 Opelika Road, Auburn 334.821.4553 www.greatamericancookies.com/ Great Clips: Complimentary Haircut 819 E Glen Ave., Ste. 120 Auburn 334.821.0910 salons.greatclips.com/us/al/auburn/819e-glen-ave?utm_source=google&utm_ medium=organic&utm_campaign=gmb Great Clips: Complimentary Haircut 2415 Moores Mill Road, Unit 120 Auburn 334.887.0172 salons.greatclips.com/us/al/auburn/2415moores-mill-rd?utm_source=google&utm_ medium=organic&utm_campaign=gmb Great Clips: Complimentary Haircut 1907 S College St. Ste. 104B, Auburn 334.321.0546 Kohls: 30% Double Monday Military Discount 2774 Enterprise Dr., Opelika 334.745.2259 www.kohls.com/stores/al/opelika-1284. shtml?utm_source=google&utm_ medium=organic&utm_campaign=local
Krispie Kreme: Complimentary Donut and Coffee (334) 826-6231 1611 Opelika Road, Auburn krispykreme.com/location/auburn299 Little Caesar’s: $5 pizza or Combo 1621 S College St., AuburnAL 36832 334.821.9622 www.littlecaesars.com/ Red Lobster: Complimentary Appetizer or Dessert 1805 Opelika Road, Auburn 334.821.4474 www.redlobster.com/locations/list/al/ auburn/1805-opelika-road Smoothie King: Complimentary 20oz Smoothie 1499 S. College St., Auburn 334.887.1882 locations.smoothieking.com/ll/US/AL/ Auburn/1499-S_-College-St_ Starbuck’s: Complimentary 12 oz Coffee 1121 S. College St., Auburn 334.728.7765 www.starbucks.com/store-locator/ store/1018107/s-college-and-donahue-1121s-college-St.,-auburn-al-368325819-us Starbuck’s: Complimentary 12 oz Coffee 1619 Opelika Road, Auburn 334.502.3491 TCBY: Complimentary 6 oz Yogurt 300 N Dean Road, Unit 3, Auburn 334.826.8828 store.tcby.com Zoës Kitchen: Complimentary Entree with Purchase of a Second Entree 234 C, W Magnolia Ave., Auburn 334.821.2085 zoeskitchen.com/locations/store/al/auburn
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A Fresh Take on TexMex South of the Border North of the Tracks in Downtown Opelika restingpulsebrewing.com #restingpulsebrewingco 714 1st Avenue Opelika, AL 36801 334-203-1364
870 N. Railroad Avenue
www.lacantinaopelika.com FAMILY-OWNED • LOCALLY-SOURCED BEEF
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OPELIKA: Buffalo Wild Wings: Wings For Heroes - A Complimentary Small Order Of Wings And Fries 2257 Tiger Town Parkway, Opelika 334.741.0989 www.buffalowildwings.com/en/locations/detail/128/
Hilyer & Associates, CPAs
Butcher Paper BBQ: TBA 128 Columbus Parkway, Opelika 334.748.9008 www.butcherpaperbbq.com Chicken Salad Chick: Complimentary Free Drink and Chick Special 2776 Enterprise Drive, Opelika (334) 539.9389 chickensaladchick.com Chipotle Mexican Grill : Buy One/Get One Free On Burritos, Salads and Tacos 2125 Intestate Drive, Opelika , 334.737.0056 locations.chipotle.com/al/opelika/2125-interstate-dr Chuck’s Bar-B-Que: Complimentary Drink 905 Shorter Ave., Opelika 334.749.4043 www.chucksbbqopelika.com Cracker Barrel Old Country Store: Complimentary Slice of Double Fudge Cakes 1051 Fox Run Ave., Opelika 334.749.2363 locations.crackerbarrel.com/al/opelika/231/ CyberZone: On 11/09, Unlimited Laser Tag $25 a person ($25 for military personnel) and $12 for 2 hours of unlimited arcades. Any day, military personnel play for $6 instead of $7. 107 N 9th St., Opelika 334.737.5000 www.cyberzone334.com Firehouse Subs Opelika: 15% off 3000 Pepperell Parkway, Ste. 7, Opelika 334.741.7998 www.firehousesubs.com/locations/al/opelika/ Freddy’s Frozen Custard & Steakburgers: Complimentary Combo Through November 1701 Capps Landing, Opelika 334.203.1618 freddysusa.com/store/opelika/
Je�fery A. Hilyer,
Attorney at Law and Certified Public Accountant
Jackie H. Moon, CPA Erin K. Arrington, CPA H. David Ennis, SR., CPA Patti C. Davis, CPA 614 2nd Ave, Opelika, AL 36801
Five bedroom boutique inn and event facility set in a historic Opelika home just blocks from downtown. Available now for nightly lodging and special events. Kage Fit, in Opelika, Alabama, is your Premiere Family Fitness Academy! Kage Fit offers martial arts classes to get you and your family in shape and looking good, and a tanning salon for that gorgeous summer tan you desire. Now is the time to join us for fitness. You won’t be crowded and fighting for space in our 6000 square foot facility. Enjoy the separation between the kids and adults. Children have their own waiting area before classes start. Two sets of showers and bathrooms make our facility one of the best around.
Host your next event with us!
3613 Pepperell Parkway, Opelika
Weddings • Showers • Meetings • Parties
Remember • Respect • Revere (334) 552-3052
Gigi’s Cupcakes: 10% off 3794-G, Pepperrell Parkway, Opelika 334.275.4331 gigiscupcakesusa.com Great Clips: Complimentary Haircut 2484 Enterprise Drive, Opelika 334.364.0093 salons.greatclips.com/us/ al/opelika/2484-enterprisedr?utm_source=google&utm_ medium=organic&utm_ campaign=gmb Huddle House: Complimentary Order of Sweet Cakes 2020 Gateway Drive, Opelika 334.745.4800 huddlehouse.com Honeybaked Ham Co. & Café: 10% off 1451 Gateway Drive, Ste. C Opelika 334.741.8411 Jefferson’s Opelika: 10% off 905 S Railroad Ave., Opelika 334.745.6927 jeffersonrestaurant.com Jim Bob’s: To Be Announced 1006 1st Ave., Opelika 334.742.9655 www.jimbobsopelika.com Little Caesar’s: $5 pizza or Combo 1515 2nd Ave., Opelika 334.741.8989 Longhorn Steakhouse: Complimentary Appetizer or Dessert and 10% Off Total Check 2601 Gateway Drive, Opelika 334.705.8800 www.longhornsteakhouse.com/ locations/al/opelika/opelika-tigerpride/5225 Marco’s Pizza: 10% off 1459 Fox Run Parkway, Opelika 334.749.3334 www.marcos.com
O’Charley’s: Free Meal and 10% Off Total Check 2501 Gateway Drive,Opelika 334.749.0719 www.ocharleys.com/locations/detail/ AL/OCharleys-of-Opelika/375 O Town Ice Cream: 10% off and Complimentary Cup or Cone with Lunch Combo 700 2nd Ave., Opelika 334.737.5700 www.facebook.com/otownicecream/ Outback Steakhouse: Complimentary Blooming Onion and Drink 2115 Pepperell Parkway, Opelika 334.219.0100 www.outback.com/locations/al/ opelika Red Clay Brewery: TBA 704 N Railroad Ave., Opelika 334.737.5409 redclaybrewingcompany.com Rock ‘N Roll Pinball TBA: Starbuck’s: Complimentary 12 oz Coffee 2056 Interstate Drive, Opelika 334.745.0885 www.starbucks.com/store-locator/ store/9680/i-85-hwy-280-2056interstate-drive-opelika-al-368015498us Susie K’s: To Be Announced 1801 2nd Ave., Opelika 334.737.6065
Wild Wing Cafe: Six Wings or Nuggets with Purchase of Drink at Participating Locations 3040 Capps Way, Opelika 334.203.1693 www.wildwingcafe.com/locations/ opelika-al
1701 Frederick Road, Opelika 334-705-4995
Lowe's Home Improvement offers everyday low prices on all quality hardware products and construction needs. Find great deals on paint, patio furniture, home décor, tools, hardwood flooring, carpeting, appliances, plumbing essentials, decking, grills, lumber, kitchen remodeling necessities, outdoor equipment, gardening equipment, bathroom decorating needs and more. Whether you are a beginner starting a DIY project or a professional, Lowe’s is your headquarters for all building materials.
Shop online at www.lowes.com or at your Opelika Lowe’s store today to discover how easy it is to start improving your home and yard today.
Selling Bulk Products of Mulch, Sand, Topsoil, Gravel, Pine Straw, Sod, Plant Material and Firewood
Open Monday - Saturday 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday 1 to 4 p.m. 334-742-3287 The Fain Family has more than 70 years of nursery experience. firstname.lastname@example.org
CALL ZACH ALSOBROK
Live Lee is the new magazine being pubished by the Opelika Observer. This special issue honors our local veterans and community member that...
Published on Nov 11, 2020
Live Lee is the new magazine being pubished by the Opelika Observer. This special issue honors our local veterans and community member that...