The only thing missing from Tuesday's 17th annual Veterans Appreciation Luncheon was a good rendition of "Onward Christian Soldiers."The congregation of the Georgetown Road complex holds the event …
The only thing missing from Tuesday’s 17th annual Veterans Appreciation Luncheon was a good rendition of “Onward Christian Soldiers.”
The congregation of the Georgetown Road complex holds the event each year to say thanks to the community’s veterans, who have served to protect the nation’s freedoms.
Serving as keynote speaker, Cleveland Mayor Tom Rowland joined state Sen. Todd Gardenhire of Chattanooga in saying the Westwood program is the best in the area that pays tribute to local veterans.
“I’m not saying this because I’m standing here,” Gardenhire said before the start of the program. “I’m from Chattanooga, and we have several programs for local veterans (that I attend), but this is the best such event in the area.”
Rowland followed later with his address to the many veterans in the audience, and Westwood members, and he said in his opening statements, “I agree with Sen. Gardenhire, this is the best event around.”
The theme for this year’s program was “God, Country and Apple Pie.”
Each attendee received a boxed apple pie at their table, to go along with the theme.
At the conclusion of Tuesday’s ceremony, the Westwood family presented Rowland and wife, Sandra, with gifts to express appreciation for Rowland’s service in the military (U.S. Air Force), his many years of service as Cleveland mayor as he approaches retirement, and his friendship to the church.
There were a number of dignitaries in the audience, including Tennessee Speaker of the House Beth Harwell. She was joined by colleagues from the General Assembly: Gardenhire, state Sen. Mike Bell, and state Reps. Dan Howell and Kevin Brooks.
Westwood Pastor Steve Smartt welcomed local and state officials to the luncheon, then emphasized to the room filled with veterans, “But, it is you we are here to honor today.”
Smartt also announced that the placemats at each dining seat were created by the children of the church, and Charleston Elementary School students (Westwood’s BEST Partner).
Veterans were urged to take the placemats and apple pies, and to fill out registration cards so they will receive an invitation for next year’s 18th annual luncheon.
“It’s been pointed out that many veterans in the community are not aware of this event,” said Smartt.
Bell participated in the program, recognizing Rowland’s years of service to the city, and then acknowledging all the veterans by having them stand when their specific branch of military service was announced.
He also recognized the contributions of Westwood member Kathy Clark, who coordinates the program and invitations each year.
Bell went through the gamut of services, including the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard. One proud lady proclaimed her husband served in the Seabees.
Also included on the program were the Cub Scouts of Troop 3217.
They served as greeters at the entrance with crisp salutes, and they also presented the colors for the first time ever during a public event.
Brooks, who is stepping away from state government after a 12-year tenure, gave a greeting and led the Pledge of Allegiance.
Mike Kennedy then led the audience in singing the National Anthem, with the assistance of Wes Capin on the piano. Kennedy also sang a solo emphasizing, “It has always been the soldier who has made the sacrifice, willing to lay down his/her life.”
Paul Davis, assisted by a Cub Scout, then conducted the Fallen Comrade Ceremony at a vacant table at the front of the auditorium.
Davis then introduced the guest speaker, highlighting many of the accomplishments achieved by the city under Rowland’s leadership, especially in recent years with Cleveland’s astonishing growth.
He repeated one of Rowland’s comments from a recent State of the City Address to the Cleveland Kiwanis Club. Rowland said, “We’ve been preparing for the future, as we celebrate the past.”
“It’s good to be at Westwood Baptist,” said Rowland at the start. He then agreed with Gardenhire’s statement that the event is the best around (for veterans).
His talk focused on Christianity, and our nation.
“Have you heard anyone say we’re no longer a Christian nation? Rowland asked his audience. “You probably have.”
He pointed out that of the 56 men who signed the Declaration of independence, 24 held seminary or Bible school degrees. “These men based their support on Christian principles,” Rowland said.
Of those Founding Fathers, he then listed a number of the beliefs of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and John Adams, who said, “This second day of July, 1776, a Day of Deliverance, should be celebrated from this time forward.”
There were also words, and thoughts, from John Hancock, Benjamin Franklin, Samuel Adams, John Quincy Adams, William Penn, Roger Sherman, Alexander Hamilton, Patrick Henry and others.
Rowland said Franklin Graham, the son of the late world evangelist Billy Graham, said, “As Christians, we must evaluate our government, and let the gospel go to work in our society and culture.”
“I urge us all to reflect on our God, and our founders’ beliefs in life and religion,” said the Cleveland mayor. “May God continue to bless us all.”
In closing, Rowland said to the veterans, “I salute you, and thank you for your service.”
Rowland served in the 119th Air National Guard Unit, then was activated for an extended tour of duty. His gift from the Westwood members was a salute to his service time in the U.S. Air Force.
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