Locally, Veterans Day observances have been held since late last week in area schools where students of all ages witnessed for themselves our nation’s commitment to liberty and the strong convictions we hold for those who hold it nearest to heart.
Inclement weather Monday forced a change in sites yet did nothing to dampen the American spirit of area residents attending the annual Veterans Day Ceremony at the VFW instead of the downtown Courthouse Plaza. People attended with personal cause and community purpose.
One was to honor the recipient of the 2012 Raymond Miller Patriotic Veteran of the Year Award. The selection not only was appropriate, it came with genuine feeling.
This year’s honoree is Terry R. Avery, a Cleveland resident since 1954 who attended Arnold Elementary School and was among the first class to attend the new Cleveland High School.
Shortly after graduation, the young man enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps and received his boot camp training at Parris Island, S.C. Almost immediately, his unit was dispatched to combat duty in Vietnam in January 1968, a long and alarming war in Southeast Asia that would take the lives of some 58,000 American soldiers before its close.
One of the conflict’s bloodiest years came in 1968. On May 18, Avery sustained life-threatening injuries during a fierce battle. He was airlifted from the battlefield to a medical facility in Guam. After months of medical treatment for multiple wounds, Avery was honorably discharged in 1971.
Like any brave American soldier, Avery left it all on the battleground on the day of his injuries. Although returning home as a wounded warrior, he never lost heart for the U.S. fighters he left behind nor for his country whose global message still rings freedom, nor for the colors of Old Glory which send a message for any who would oppress a weaker foe.
In his years since Vietnam, Avery has served as an unrelenting advocate for patriotism, for unconditional respect for the American flag and for love of freedom. Never has this soldier shied from speaking on behalf of other veterans and in giving a voice to their needs.
Avery was instrumental in the upgrading of the veterans section of Fort Hill Cemetery and he remains active on the committee tasked with bringing the proposed Cleveland/Bradley County State Veterans Home to reality in our community.
He has served two terms as VFW Post 2598 commander. He is a life member of the National Veterans of Foreign Wars, and is a member of American Legion Post 81, Bradley County Veterans Firing Squad, AmVets Post 13, Disabled American Veterans Chapter 25, Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 596, Military Order of the Purple Heart and the Marine Corps League.
His military honors include the Purple Heart, Combat Action Medal, Vietnam Service Metal with two bronze stars, Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal, Vietnam Cross of Gallantry with two palms, Presidential Unit Commendation ribbon, Republic of Vietnam Meritorious Unit Citation and Civil Action Medal with first class color with a palm.
Yet, we are reminded it is not the number of medals that make the soldier.
It is the size of heart that beats beneath those decorations of valor and its convictions to a people, to a way of life and to a flag that tells the story of both.
Terry R. Avery bears such a heart.
We honor him today.
We salute his courage and his commitment, whether on a Vietnam battlefield in 1968 or for a community cause 44 years later.
We ask others to share in this warm tribute.