Veteran Honorees Recognized During Luncheon
November 16, 2011
REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala.--This year's Veteran of the Year isn't a veteran.
Rather, the awardee is a group of veterans along with spouses, friends and supporters who have used their love of motorcycles and the patriotic image of motorcycle riders to create a group that provides support at local veteran events, including Honor Flights, veteran funeral services, Soldier deployment and welcome home ceremonies, and Memorial Day and Veterans Day activities.
The Patriot Guard Riders, represented by a very surprised and emotional Mark and Kathy Hooper, were honored at the annual Veterans Day luncheon, hosted by the Redstone-Huntsville Chapter of the Association of the U.S. Army on Thursday. The couple received a bronze eagle sculpture in honor of their group.
"We have never done this before. But this year, the 2011 winner is without a face and without a name," said Max Bennett, president of the North Alabama Veterans and Fraternal Organizations Coalition, which presents the award each year.
"They never ask to be spotlighted. They never ask to be in the media. They never ask for anything except the opportunity to honor veterans."
Formed in 2005, members of the Patriot Guard Riders have participated in more than 300 Soldier deployment ceremonies, more than 200 military funerals, more than 100 motorcycle escorts and more than 100 Welcome Home ceremonies. In North Alabama, Patriot Guard Riders have participated in Wounded Warrior activities, a Medal of Honor recognition, six Honor Flight events, more than 20 civic flag lines and more than 20 parades.
The coalition also presented the 2011 Lifetime Achievement Award to Steve Ray, an Air Force Vietnam veteran who continues to serve veterans through various positions. He has served for 19 years on the board of the Madison County Military Heritage Commission, and as a local officer of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Post 5162; state historian of Alabama's American Legions; and a member of the local Disabled American Veterans, Chapter 26.
"He has worked to enhance and upgrade the Military Heritage and Hall of Heroes exhibits on display at the Madison County Courthouse," Bennett said. "And he has worked with the North Alabama Veterans and Fraternal Organizations Coalition to recognize members of our community who have been awarded decorations for valor at Veterans Day events held each year in Huntsville."
The two prestigious awards were among many recognitions that were part of the annual Veterans Day luncheon. The event kicked off a two-day Veterans Day program that included a breakfast, Veterans Memorial dedication and parade on Friday.
Calling the Tennessee Valley a "patriotic community," Joe Fitzgerald, state president of AUSA and the chairman of the local Veterans Day committee, told the luncheon audience that thanking local veterans for "protecting our democracy, our freedom and our very way of life" is important for the entire community.
"They stood up and were counted upon and delivered … The sweetness of an enduring peace is tainted by the bitterness of personal sacrifice," he said of local men and women who have served honorably in the armed forces.
The program included the induction of four new members in the Madison County Hall of Heroes. They are: John Frederick Evans, Vietnam War, recipient of the Silver Star and Distinguished Flying Cross; Charles George Blume, Vietnam War, recipient of the Bronze Star Medal with Valor and three Purple Hearts; Dennis Ross Lacy, Vietnam War, recipient of the Army Commendation Medal with Valor; and Kenneth Gene Trickey, Vietnam War, recipient of the Army Commendation Medal with Valor and Purple Heart.
The Hall of Heroes was established in the lobby of the Madison County Courthouse in 1975. Its honorees -- all with local connections -- go back to Dec. 13, 1808.
"That's how much our heroes mean to Madison County … For a community that does not honor their veterans today will not have any tomorrow," said Tom Dunn, president of the Madison County Military Heritage Commission and a decorated veteran who was inducted in the Hall of Heroes in 2006.
The Hall of Heroes inductees had a "simple obedience to duty" that today "epitomize the valor that has been so dominant in American history," he said.
Quoting John 15:13, Dunn said there is no greater love than to lay down your life for another. While wartime makes heroes, it is in peacetime that heroes continue to have a lasting influence on their communities.
"We care for all of our veterans -- past, present and future," he said. "Our veterans are making a significant difference in the quality of life in communities across America. They are still everyday heroes to their family, friends and community. Freedom does not come easy, but through the loss of family, friends and health, and the courage of these."
In addition, four veterans were recognized at the luncheon as Purple Heart recipients: Charles Blume, Jason Carter, Matthew Gardner and Grant Rosensteel.