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Posted: May 24, 2009 12:30 a.m.

Honoring the fallen

Local American Legion posts hold Memorial Day ceremonies for those who perished on the battlefield

Jennifer T. Long/

Remembering what it's all about: Robert "Butch" Woodruff stands next to the American Legion memorial statue on the Covington square. Woodruff, a Newton County resident, is the former American Legion commander of Georgia and will speak at the Ameri...

 "From the beginning of time man has had war," said Robert "Butch" Woodruff, former American Legion Commander of Georgia.

 Struggles for natural resources to differing religious opinions have caused man to take up arms against one another since the dawn of their existence. Casualties are, of course, inevitable.

 Memorial Day was not made a national holiday to mark the unofficial start of summer, but as a day to remember those injured and killed on the battlefield while defending America.

 "Some people think Memorial Day is a day to go buy a pair of shoes or go to the lake and drink beer and eat barbecue," Woodruff said. "But, if it wasn’t for the men and women in uniform, we might be eating fish heads and rice or wieners and schnitzel."

He said that while temptation to use a three-day weekend as a time for vacations and family gatherings should not be avoided altogether, Americans should find time Monday morning to reflect on the sacrifices of men and women serving in U.S. armed forces.

Woodruff served in the Army from 1966 to 1968. He was stationed in Germany as the Vietnam War raged thousands of miles to the east.

"I got it lucky," Woodruff said.

Many of the men enlisted during Woodruff’s tenure in the military never returned home to say the same.

For 31 years, Woodruff has been a member of Conyers American Legion Post 77, although he was born and still resides in Newton County. He has served as post commander for a total of 12 years, has served as district commander, state junior vice commander, state senior vice commander and state commander from 1998 to 1999.

He can recite the Preamble to the Constitution of the American Legion as a school-aged child recites the Pledge of Allegiance, and carries several miniature Legion membership applications in his billfold in case he meets someone interested in joining.

Legion members host bingo nights, visit VA hospitals, provide holiday gifts for economically disadvantaged families and sponsor annual scholarships for students who write impromptu, themed essays. Post 77 also was instrumental in the construction of the first Miracle Baseball Field in Conyers as the field was built on Legion-owned land.

Legion posts across the nation also are involved in the Family Support Network, which connects families of active-duty troops needing assistance with volunteers to complete the task.

Woodruff said since local Bravo Company of the 48th Infantry (light) Division of the Georgia National Guard deployed in late March, Legion members have cleared fallen trees and hauled away furniture at the requests of troop members’ families.

"If we get a call from someone in another area, we’ll contact somebody at their local post," Woodruff said.

He added that there are approximately 340 Legion posts in the state of Georgia.

As one of the youngest members of his post at age 64, Woodruff said the Legion is actively trying to recruit younger veterans and has in the past few years tried to revamp their image along with other posts across the country.

"Contrary to popular belief, it’s not just a bunch of old war veterans sitting around getting drunk, telling war stories," Woodruff said.

He said that decades ago the previous description was true of the Legion, especially in the South where the post was the only place men could drink in a dry county.

Woodruff will be the speaker at the Conyers American Legion Post 77 Memorial Day Ceremony. He said he will speak about patriotism.

"This day is to pay honor and tribute to our nation’s heroes," Woodruff said, "and those who gave their lives or were injured or maimed protecting the freedom that we enjoy today."

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