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Honoring military sacrifice and service on Memorial Day
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Map designer/creator Bob Atkinson with the Walk of Heroes Veterans Memorial's new 9-foot map of what the finished memorial will contain. - photo by Michelle Kim

Veterans, friends, family and patriots gathered at the Walk of Heroes Veterans Memorial and the American Legion Post 77 for ceremonies thanking and honoring the military men and women who guard America's freedoms and who paid the ultimate price.

This year, the Rehorn Family Foundation awarded its first ever Medal of Freedom to World War II veteran and former county commissioner Bud Soesbee, the "founding father" of the memorial who was a driving force and spearhead for its creation.

Roger Rehorn presented a $10,000 check from the Rehorn Family Foundation to Soesbee, who simply said, "Thank you all."

Rehorn described why his family began giving the Diego Rincon scholarship nine years ago and how they came to create the Medal of Freedom.

The scholarship was created in honor of veteran Diego Rincon, a Class of 2000 Salem graduate who was killed by an explosive in March 2003 while manning a checkpoint in Iraq. Rincon signed up with the Army after September 11, 2001. His family had immigrated from Columbia and Rincon was undocumented.

"I haven't seen the Rincon family in a couple years. I didn't know them. But I know a patriot when I see one," said Rehorn, "and Diego Rincon was a true American patriot."

"We created the Rehorn family foundation... to promote the ideals of the American spirit, to know what freedom is and how precious it is. After 2012, we looked to create another award for an individual that exemplified the American spirit, who throughout his entire life promoted the ideals of freedom. We didn't have to go far."

Rehorn continued, "(Soesbee) fought in WWII, he earned the Bronze Star for valor. He came home and went to school. He earned two degrees and earned his master's at Georgia State. He's a family man, married to his dear wife Lisa for over 55 years until her passing. He's an ex-county commissioner. At the twilight of his life he decided to take on a project so that veterans can have a place to come to and think about their brothers in arms, meditate. There's a lot of ups and downs and a lot of average people would have given up. Not this character."

The keynote speaker was Winson Menzies, Vietnam veteran and pastor of the Greater Grace Church. Ken Bradley, a retired Ga. Power executive and Vietnam veteran, introduced Menzies. Invocation was given by Larry Barker, a Vietnam veteran with the 1st Air Calvary. Welcome remarks were given by Commission Chairman Richard Oden. Bob Castillo gave closing benediction. Services, such as passing out water and assisting audience members, was given by the Boy Scout Order of the Arrow. The event was emceed by Tommy Clack.

A special performance was given by brothers Rob and David Gutry, who wrote a song for their brother Larry who was killed in Vietnam on March 22, 1969.

At the same time on Monday, the American Legion Post 77 held a Memorial Day ceremony with Color Guard and Honor Guard salute. The keynote speaker was Tolbert Morris. Afterwards the American Red Cross set up a blood drive and a luncheon was served.