In June, Army Heritage Month, this nation pauses to thank and honor all those who have served in the Army over the past 247 years. They had the courage to stay the course and work together as one team in support of our nation.
In May 2019, the secretary of the Army approved Army Directive 2019-20 implementing Army Heritage Month into the Army’s equal opportunity program. The directive was effective immediately and applies to the active Army, National Guard and Reserve. It established June as Army Heritage Month, centered around the Army birthday on June 14. The Army was founded on this date in 1775 when the Continental Congress authorized the enlistment of expert riflemen to serve in the American Continental Army. Flag Day is also celebrated on June 14 to honor the U.S. flag and to commemorate the flag’s adoption.
Army Materiel Command’s Equal Opportunity Adviser and Program Manager, Master Sgt. Elaina Paxton, said Army Heritage Month is a time to commemorate every Soldier who has served in the Army for the past 247 years.
“We’ve always celebrated the Army’s birthday in June. However, this is only the fourth year since Army Heritage Month was added to the Army’s military Equal Opportunity Program calendar of observances,” she said. “Commanders of Army commands, Army service component commands, and direct reporting units will observe and conduct Army heritage and birthday activities during the month to recognize the service and sacrifices of a diverse Army and our long history of defending the nation and our national interests. Our heritage is a living heritage.”
The 247th Army Birthday Celebration is the key event to celebrate Army Heritage Month on Redstone. On Saturday, June 11, the Garrison’s directorate of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation will hold the Army birthday celebration at the Gateway, near Gate 9, from 5-9 p.m. The family friendly event will feature a history making appearance from the Golden Knights parachute team, a Cruise-In Car Show, food trucks, craft vendors and fireworks. It honors the commitment of service members and celebrates the Army’s time-honored traditions and heritage.
This year, veterans from Floyd E. “Tut” Fann State Veterans Home are invited as special guests to attend the Army birthday celebration on Redstone.
While few would argue Tut Fann veterans deserve their thanks for their service, many don’t take the time to hear their stories. To acknowledge Army Heritage Month, Army veterans who reside there took a moment to reflect on their military service.
Retired Sgt. 1st Class John Tinger, a native of Queens, New York, served on active duty in the Army, Army Reserve and Air Force during the Korean War and Vietnam War eras. He has a total combined 22 years of service.
“My desire to join the military began when a fellow at my church told me he could get me in the Army National Guard, but nothing came of it. Then I heard the Army Reserve needed X-ray technicians. I had gone to X-ray school so I didn’t stop until i got an opportunity to serve in a medical unit with the Army Reserves,” Tinger said. “I love that the Army provided some great opportunities for camaraderie and relationship. After I got out, I volunteered to be a chaplain for the American Legion in Decatur, Alabama, because it allowed me an opportunity to stay connected and fellowship with those who served. I thank those that are serving today. I am proud of them and pray for them every day. Folks say to me, thank you for your service. I say to them, thank you for your patriotism.”
Mississippi native Bennie Lyon expressed similar sentiments about his military service. He said the Army gave him purpose.
“I received a scholarship right after high school which got me a four-year college education,” Lyon said. “This prevented me from enlisting right away. After several deferments, I entered the service during the Korean War era. I was proud to serve. Those were tough times, but I went to some great places and did some amazing things. I spent time in Germany with the 868th Field Artillery rebuilding and reoccupying the country. That was hard work. I also spent three nights a week teaching local kids the ‘GI’ language. The military became a way of life for me. I spent six years on active duty in the Army and five years in the U.S Air Force Reserves. I was proud to have worn both uniforms. If you are lost, the military will give you direction. I’d encourage anyone to serve for at least three years. I wanted both my sons to go into the military. I was proud that one of them did join the National Guard. He passed away when he was 39 years old.”
Florence native Orrin Butler offered a different insight on his military experience. He served during the Vietnam War era.
Butler said he was drafted into the Army when he was 21, so he had to put the things he wanted to do in life on hold until he could fulfill his service obligation.
“The draft was going on, so there wasn’t any choice about whether to serve. You did what was expected of you,” Butler said. “I was good with weapons and was able to put that skillset to good use in the Army. I became an armorer in charge of the arms room at my unit. I made sure all of our weapons were well maintained. I could take apart my weapon and put it back together again in 32 seconds. Today’s Army is a volunteer force. Things were different back then. I moved up the ranks from a private to a sergeant during my four years of service and I gained some good experience. Things weren’t always enjoyable, but I did my job and I did it well.”
Ervin Thovson, born in Elmore, Minnesota, said he was also drafted into the Army during the Vietnam War era when he was only 20.
“During my time, there were draft dodgers, so I felt obligated to serve. I always knew my future would involve military service,” Thovson said. “My brother and uncle served so I felt a duty to serve. The Vietnam War was going on in 1965. I had a background in electronics as an electronics technician, but the Army sent me to finance school for eight weeks at Fort Benjamin Harrison, Indiana. My first duty station was Fort Knox, Kentucky. I worked on a lot of key projects during my assignment there. I also met my wife there and we were married in 1966. I stayed in the Army for two years and gained a lot from that experience. I got out in 1967 and went on to work on the Apollo Project. My best advice to someone who is thinking of joining the Army is that it’s a very good experience. The Army gave me a solid foundation. I was proud that my son decided to serve. He spent 13 years in the Army. I’d like to think that my Army service inspired him to serve, too.”
No matter the circumstances that led each veteran to join the military, one thing was unanimous – they all said serving in the Army gave them an opportunity to be a part of an elite team.
Tinger summed up the sentiments of all the veterans best.
“The unity and camaraderie in the military is hard to explain,” he said. “Serving makes you part of a brotherhood/sisterhood that last a lifetime. So no matter where you find yourself in life, you are able to connect with others who served. We were all Soldiers. Even here, we share stories about our experience and can connect with one another in a unique way. They’re our memories, but the stories we tell are also a part of military history and Army’s heritage.”