By forming an American Legion post in Social Circle, Tommy Hatton gets to provide assistance to local veterans, their families and the larger community and honor a close friend whose life was marked by service and valor.
Social Circle hasn’t had an American Legion post since the mid-1960s, but Hatton is reviving the organization by forming the Gary L. Lemonds Social Circle Post 332 in honor of the Social Circle native and winner of the Distinguished Service Cross for his military service in Vietnam.
Hatton has applied for a charter for the group, which has been approved by the Georgia department of the American Legion and is awaiting approval by the national organization.
"What the American Legion is designed to do is assist the community and take care of veterans and their wives and children," Hatton said.
In addition to offering benefits to its veteran members, Hatton said the American Legion partners with numerous organizations across the country, including Boy Scouts and Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) programs. Hatton said the group hopes to sponsor a local Boy Scout troop in Social Circle, as the city doesn’t have one currently, and plans to work with the local ROTC. However, the focus will be on supporting veterans.
"I’m a stickler for that. I will take care of a veteran before anyone else," said Hatton.
A local hero
The process of forming a new post started about two years ago, following Lemonds’ death in early 2009. Legion posts can only be named after deceased veterans, and Hatton thought Lemonds would be a natural fit since he was born in and died in Social Circle.
"He was a hall of fame recipient of the Army Rangers, very highly decorated in Vietnam and is up for a Congressional Medal of Honor," Hatton said. "I’ve known him for more than 20 years, and this gave me an opportunity to honor his name, because he was a fine gentleman and had risked his life several times in Vietnam."
Hatton, who also served in Vietnam, said he was happy to honor a Vietnam veteran by naming a post after him, considering most posts are named after World War I and World War II veterans.
Lemonds was an Army Ranger, a member of one of the military’s most elite groups, and served in Cu Chi, Vietnam, where he won a Bronze Star, Silver Star and three Purple Hearts, according to his self-written biography. He was also an Army staff sergeant.
"I was proud to be a soldier, I didn’t regret being sent to Vietnam, as most soldiers, airmen, sailors and Marines believe in their heart they are doing their part for their family, friends and country. I was no different," Lemonds said in his bio. He said he received all of his awards "not for being better than other soldiers, but as a leader, I put my life on the line, so that my men and I could come home together, alive, and we did."
In his later life, Lemonds lived in Loganville, where he was also a member of the American Legion Riders and Patriot Guard Riders, and the director of Loganville Post 233, according to cycleconnections.com. Lemonds also founded the annual Ride for America parade in Georgia in 1999 along with fellow Vietnam veteran and Harley rider Stan Mauldin. According to militarytimes.com, Lemonds earned his prestigious Distinguished Service Cross for multiple acts in April 1969.
"Sergeant Lemonds distinguished himself by exceptionally valorous actions on 9 and 10 April 1969, while serving as Team Leader during an ambush patrol maneuver. When an enemy force launched a massive attack on 9 April, Sergeant Lemonds led his men in an assault on the enemy emplacements. He singlehandedly charged a bunker and destroyed it with hand grenades. Sighting another fortification, he crawled through the fierce fusillade and killed the enemy with his rifle. After eliminating the hostile entrenchment system, he continued his patrol mission," according to the website.
"On 10 April his patrol was attacked by another communist force. From his defensive position in a bomb crater, he called in artillery and air support on the large enemy element. When withdrawing his troops to a nearby landing zone for evacuation, he came under sniper fire from two North Vietnamese soldiers, whom he quickly annihilated with a well-thrown grenade.
Intense machine gun fire thwarted the extraction craft’s first landing attempt, but after Sergeant Lemonds directed a gun ship on the enemy location, a successful evacuation was effected."
Next steps for post
A red brick building for the new Social Circle post was donated to the group by Rodney Powell, owner of The Mews Assisted Living of Social Circle Senior Living Community.
Hatton said the old brick home, located at 549 Cherokee Road in Social Circle, was built in the 1950s and needs a lot of work, including significant repairs to the roof and interior as well as a new heating and air conditioning system.
He hopes to have a grand opening ceremony in time for Veterans Day on Nov. 11, but said that will be a tight deadline.
Former veterans and other volunteers, including a retired contractor, are repairing the building for free.
Hatton said the new post needs all the help and money people are willing to give. Any donations can be made to Gary L. Lemonds Post 332, P.O. Box 1504, Social Circle, GA, 30025; donations to the American Legion are tax deductible. The group is also in need of any furniture or other supplies people are willing to donate, though nothing can be put in the building until it meets current building codes. For more information about donating or joining, contact Hatton at email@example.com or 404-226-0775.
The post has gotten a little bit of money from the Georgia department of the American Legion, and some of the other nearby posts in the district and its new members.
Hatton said the group already has 33 members and he expects another 17 to sign up by the end of the week.
Veterans don’t have to live in Social Circle to join the Social Circle post; however, veterans can only belong to one post. Covington’s American Legion post is Post 32.
One interesting story of the American Legion’s previous history in Social Circle is the fact the Blue Willow Inn was actually donated to the group decades ago, but the group decided to sell it, Hatton said.
"That was probably pretty stupid, but hindsight is 20/20," Lemonds said, laughing. "It could have made one heck of an American Legion post."
Newton County Commissioner John Douglas, a former veteran, said he felt the new post would help people in the area, and he would help them get off the ground, while Social Circle Mayor Hal Dally said the city was happy for its new resident.
"Everywhere they locate they do good work. I know we’ll be proud to have them as a partner in the growth of the city," Dally said.
Hatton thanked his finance officer Roger Decker, the post’s adviser Bobby Boss, Charlie Tucker with the Georgia department and others for their help.
"It will be extremely challenging, but in the long run it will be very rewarding," Hatton said.