Published in the Rains County Leader on July 16, 2019:
Lake County Neighbors hosted their 10th Annual Veteran’s Thank You Luncheon on Tuesday of last week at Lake Fork Baptist Church. It’s one of David’s and my favorite summer events for several reasons – the food is plentiful and delicious, it’s a great time to visit with friends, and the patriotic programs and speakers are enjoyable.
This year did not disappoint. The plate of barbecued brisket and sausage, potato salad, and beans was more than I could handle, so I sent home a taste of the brisket to my neighbors’ dog Floppy – and David was more than happy to finish my peach cobbler. The fellowship was even better with at least twenty friends from the Senior Center in attendance. The highlight of the day, however, was the guest speaker – Lieutenant Colonel Allen B. West.
If you’re not familiar with LTC West, you can read his complete resume in last week’s Leader. Suffice it to say that he has led an exciting life including a 22-year military career, a bronze star, two master’s degrees, a teaching career, and a stint in the U.S. House of Representatives for Florida. There is much more, but LTC West isn’t impressed with himself. When Jean Moize, president of the Lake County Neighbors, was introducing him, she was only halfway through his long list of accomplishments and associations when he stood up and said, “Blah, blah, blah.” He put his hands gently on Moize’s shoulders and moved her aside, taking the podium to a rousing round of applause.
LTC West, who is definitely a people person, had already won the audience over earlier in the morning. During the meal in the church fellowship hall, he was frequently seen posing for pictures with people, even if it meant interrupting his own meal. After lunch and the annual quilt drawing, we all moved to the sanctuary for the rest of the program. One of the favorite parts is when the hymn of each branch of service is played, and those who served in that branch stand to be recognized. This year, there was some technical issue which left an uncomfortable silence while we waited for the Army Hymn to begin. After a few moments LTC West stood and began to sing. His fellow Army vets stood and sang along. As the song finished, he approached the microphone and said, “The Army don’t need no stinkin’ recording!” After that, the audience was his.
When it was time for LTC West to speak, the first thing he did was ask the World War II veterans who had been recognized earlier to come and stand at the front of the auditorium. Then he asked any in the audience who were 18 years old or younger to come up and stand with them. He encouraged the young people to look at the older ones around them and to think about what they had done and how it affected the life they now lived.
The audience paid rapt attention as LTC West told of the challenge his father, who is also an Army veteran, issued to him when he was 15 years old to become the first officer in the family and how he lived into and beyond that challenge. The climax of his speech came when he referred to the movie “Saving Private Ryan,” the story of a group of soldiers who was sent behind enemy lines under the leadership of Captain Miller to bring back a paratrooper whose brothers had all been killed in action. Private Ryan was brought back, but most of the rescue party, including Captain Miller, died in the process. As Miller was dying, he whispered to Ryan, “Earn this.”
LTC West left us with the same exhortation – to recognize and remember the price that has been and is still being paid for us to enjoy the freedoms that we have and to live up to that price. In a culture that emphasizes the things to which we are entitled, this is not a popular message. Popular or not, though, it is one that needs to be heard.