A crowd of old and young alike assembled Monday morning on the Bradley County Courthouse Plaza to remember those who guard our freedoms today and those who sacrificed their health and even their lives to keep our nation strong. Each Memorial Day we remember and honor them.
The setting was beautiful. Bright sunshine, a little breeze and a crowd of people taking a few hours out of their holiday to honor our heroes. Our venue is perfect at the Courthouse Plaza, located in the heart of our historic downtown district and surrounded by American flags waving in the breeze. And there were many, many heroes among us on that day.
One such hero is Bill Norwood. He is truly one of my personal heroes. I have heard his stories through the years and they are all inspiring. He endured the torments of a prisoner-of-war camp during the Korean War.
He came home to Cleveland and has worked tirelessly to ensure that the service of all veterans is appreciated and never taken for granted.
Bill received this community’s first Veterans' Service Award Monday, given by the Southeast Tennessee Veterans Home Council. Cid Heidel and Bradley County Commissioner Mark Hall, who co-chair the Veterans Home Council, made a moving presentation to an unsuspecting Norwood.
Norwood was in line with members of the Firing Squad, preparing for the 21-gun salute that traditionally follows our Memorial Day Roll Call for veterans who have died over the past year. When he came to the podium, Bill repeated something I have heard him say over the years, “I am no hero. I am only someone who loves his country.”
But many in our community will respectfully disagree. Bill is truly one of our nation's heroes, and what an impact his words and his appearance has on our young people today.
There are more like Bill Norwood in our community and in our nation. Anyone watching the televised National Memorial Day service carried on the PBS networks last Sunday will understand that point. That’s one reason supporting the country's Wounded Warrior Programs is a very important step for all of us to take.
Involved in the program and in the audience Monday were members of the U.S. Naval Sea Cadets, Chattanooga Division, along with the Southeast Tennessee Young Marines. They took part in the celebration, reading names of fallen heroes in wars past and posting our colors.
Involving our next generation in this Memorial Day event is important. They heard words from people like Bill Norwood and from our guest speaker — a veteran, a husband and father, a pastor and a patriot. It was an honor to share the podium Monday with U.S. Army Chaplain the Rev. Matthew Ward of West Cleveland Baptist Church. In his address, he reminded us that sacrifices are still being made by our fellow Americans in far-away places.
There are no words that could adequately say “thank you” to the people who organize this Memorial Day service each year, as well as our November Veterans Day events.
Steve Stewart and Mary Baer coordinate both events and the loyalty and respect they give to these two events is remarkable — from lining up the program, to obtaining a guest speaker, involving our veterans’ organizations and our youth, and so much more. Mary works hard to promote the annual Poppy Sale which is so meaningful this time of year.
All veterans organizations came together for this year's observance as they have been doing for many years. Sprinkled among the crowd that filled Ocoee Street in front of the Courthouse were many of our community's elected officials, including Bradley County Mayor D. Gary Davis who helps make our venue available each year.
Monday's event reminded us all of how important it is that we have a Veterans Home for Southeast Tennessee in our city. Veterans, charitable benefactors, elected officials and the public continue to work with our state officials to make this home a reality soon. We should do no less for our veterans and our heroes.
Remember this event next year and put it on your calendar. If you, or someone you know loses a loved one who is a veteran during the coming year, remember to attend the Memorial Day event. We will read their names on the Last Roll Call.
Our veterans deserve no less.