Originally, there were six of them, gathered at the gazebo in Porterdale’s Veteran’s Memorial Park a couple of years ago.
It was Veteran’s Day and the six men got to talking about honoring those who have served their country every year the holiday rolled around. It wouldn’t just be veterans.
No, the men had the idea that the village of Porterdale could honor all public servants annually on Nov. 11.
“We felt police, fire fighters, sheriffs and EMTS see more action then we [in the military] saw; they should be honored too,” said former Marine Rick Vaida. Though he served during the Vietnam War, as a machinist stationed in Okinawa, he only spent a few days in the Southeast Asian country.
Like many Vietnam-era vets, Vaida said when he came home, he felt like “we were a bunch of outcasts.
“We got draft notices, we did our part,” he said. “It’s important to Vietnam Vets to be thanked for our service.”
He said the veterans who did the fight “have seen some bad stuff. If someone doesn’t pat them on the back ... that’s why there’s so much trouble with drugs and alcohol.”
So, the original six set about working towards making Veteran’s Day a special event in Porterdale, honoring all those who serve.
But, first, they needed to do some work, restoring the gazebo and fixing up the triangular-shaped park at the corner of Highway 81/Broad Street and Elm Street. Vaida, the only one of the original six who came up with the idea, has been joined by fellow former Marines Jackie Jones and Val Centers, working to repair the gazebo. The floor’s been pulled up, leveled and rebuilt. New benches line five of the six sides of the Victorian-style building. The whole thing has been power washed.
Eventually, Vaida said, they will install paths, benches and finish landscaping. And out by the flagpole, a plaque, now posted inside the gazebo, will tell residents and visitors that the green space is Veteran’s Memorial Park.
Porterdale Mayor Arline Chapman and city council member Linda Finger took notice. The village donated the supplies for the restoration. Last year, the first Veteran’s Day event honoring all of those who serve their country in law enforcement, rescue work and the military, took place. Between 50 and 60 people came, including 18 military veterans, a couple of deputies from the Sheriff’s Office and police officers, Vaida said.
The guest speaker was former Tuskegee Airman Val Archer, who will return this year. This year’s event will also feature Sgt. John Cranmer, Senior Vice Commander of the Northeast Georgia Chapter of Military Order of the Purple Heart. The chapter has named Porterdale a Purple Heart Community, and the mayor will proclaim the designation during the ceremonies. The events starts at 11 a.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 11.
Finger said there will also be musical performances by Tiger and Kathy Bragg, and members of the Newton County High School Marines Corps Junior ROTC will present the colors. Sponsoring the event will be the nonprofit Community Assistance Relief Effort (CARE).
“CARE wanted to do it because there’s never been a veteran’s event in Porterdale,” Finger said.
The mother of two sons, one who is a veteran of the Army, the other a “lifer” in the Air Force, said, “We feel like it’s something we should do to honor our veterans.”
For Jones, the celebrations are the city’s way of “doing something for us. We did something for the country.”
Centers, who was a helicopter pilot in Vietnam, agreed. “I just want to make people aware of veterans.”
The Texas-born Vaida said Porterdale is a community of people who take care of one another. “It’s the only place I’ve felt I belonged.”
He said the Porterdale Bar and Grill will also be celebrating the 240th anniversary of the Marine Corps on Tuesday, Nov. 10, beginning at 5 p.m. They will be serving S.O.S., the polite name for the military staple, creamed chipped beef on toast.