City of Opelika holds Veteran’s Day Celebration on Monday

Photo by Robert Noles/Opelika Observer

By Morgan Bryce

Gratitude was the main theme of this year’s Veterans Day ceremony hosted by the city of Opelika on Monday. In his opening remarks, Mayor Gary Fuller scanned the gathered crowd of military heroes and thanked them all for their service and contribution to preserving freedom and liberty for all American citizens.
“Some people forget Veterans Day altogether, but that’s certainly not true in our community,” Fuller said. “Veterans are our heroes and should never be forgotten. I think it’s important for us to pass down veterans stories from generation to generation so they will forever be remembered.”
Following Fuller’s remarks, members of Opelika High School’s choir delivered a rousing A capella rendition of the National Anthem. and Ward 4 Councilman Eddie Smith led the crowd by reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.
This year’s ceremony featured two guest speakers, Opelika native and Army Col. Richard Pelham and Marine Col. Chris Richie, who spoke
on a central theme and message of “Veterans: Why We Serve – Past, Present and Future.”
Richie, Marine Corps advisor to Air University, award-winning author and respected key-note speaker, took the podium first and explained to the audience the “who, how and why” of veterans and their service.
“All veterans, ever since the Revolutionary War, carry that warrior spirit. They have understood that the blessing of liberty is worthy any sacrifice they can offer, up to and including their own lives,” Richie said. “Veterans secured our (lives) from the battlefield of Saratoga, Vera Cruz, Bellau Wood, Midway Island, Chosin Reservoir … and Kabul.”
Near the end of his speech, Richie shared a brief synopsis of his path to military service, which started with his grandfather, Eugene.
Serving as a company commander in the Phillipines in December 1941, Eugene fought and served there until April 1942 when the country fell to the Japanese. While evading capture, he injured by a grenade and was bayoneted while stumbling during the Bataan Death March.
Eugene served 42 months as a prisoner-of-war until his liberation.
After the war, Eugene returned home, married and started a family, having six children.
Richie said he decided as a 12-year-old boy to join the military after he witnessed the gratitude shown to his grandparents during a Veterans Day service at Fort Rucker.
“At one point, a general walked by and saluted my grandfather. (My grandfather) was in civilian clothes and retired, so I was confused and perplexed and asked one of my uncles why,” Richie said. “He told me, ‘son, your grandfather is a hero. At that moment, I knew I was going to serve my country.”
Pelham started off his speech by thanking the city for hosting the event and reminding the audience about the true meaning of the holiday.
“We’re here today to honor our heroes, to remember their achievements, their courage and their dedication and to say thank you for your sacrifices,” Pelham said.
Later, he asked each veteran present, including retired Command Sgt. Maj. and Medal of Honor recipient Bennie Adkins, to stand and be recognized with applause from the audience.
“The service members we honor today come from all walks of life, but they share several fundamental qualities: they possess courage, pride, determination, selflessness, dedication to duty and integrity. All of those qualities are needed to serve something larger than one’s self,” Pelham said.
According to a press release submitted by the city of Opelika preceding this event, Pelham is “a U.S. Army Officer assigned to the faculty of the United States Air Force Air War College at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery. He is in the Department of Leadership and Warfighting, where he teaches strategic leadership and the profession of arms, future concepts in air power and theater strategy and campaigning. His awards include the Defense Meritorious Service Medal (2nd Award), the Army Meritorious Service Medal (3rd Award), the Army Commendation Medal (4th Award), Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, the Afghanistan Campaign Medal with Campaign Star and the NATO Non-Article 5 Medal, along with various other awards.”
“I’m now (almost) 36 years removed from that young 18-year-old, and don’t regret a day of service to this great country,” Pelham said. “I’ve been fortunate to have some great (comrades and mentors) who taught me how to be a leader, and for that, I am forever grateful.”
The service concluded with the unveiling of a cenotaph outside City Hall dedicated to the late Opelika native and Private First Class Charlie Giddens.
On a service flyer provided by the city, Giddens was being kept as a prisoner during World War II. During that time, judges could offer military service as alternative sentencing for inmates.
According to Giddens’ obituary, “he was a lifetime resident of Lee County. He was well-known and had many friends. He passed away at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Tuskegee.”
Giddens’ grave marker was found at the historic Ward Funeral Home earlier this year by California native Jeff Hamilton, who was visiting his daughter and WLTZ reporter Marlena Mumma. Opelika historian Edna Ward helped research and compile information for the city’s report on Giddens.
Following the service, the Museum of East Alabama hosted a reception for all veterans present at the service.
About Veterans Day, taken from
“This holiday started as a day to reflect upon the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and was originally called ‘Armistice Day.’ It fell on Nov. 11 because that is the anniversary of the signing of the Armistice that ended World War I. However, in 1954, the holiday was changed to “Veterans Day” in order to account for all veterans in all wars.”


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