They served from the Vietnam era to Iraq, the seven veterans honored on Wednesday at Cleburne’s American Legion Post 50. Age and location of service differences aside, the fact that they all suffered combat wounds for which they earned Purple Heart Medals ties them together.
“I know you all gave more than you needed to,” Post 50 Commander Ronnie Webb said. “We appreciate you and we love you.”
American Legion Auxiliary Chaplain Cindy Baker thanked God for America’s veterans and service men and women and the freedoms they have secured and continue to secure for America. Baker called upon God to grant wisdom to our federal, state and local leaders to help ensure that America continues to prosper as “one nation under God.”
State Rep. DeWayne Burns, R-Cleburne, voiced many of the same thoughts shared by Webb and Baker.
“I’m here for no other reason than to say thank you to our Purple Heart recipients and thank you to our veterans who had the courage to serve and fight for our freedom and liberty,” Burns said. “There’s a long and storied history to the Purple Heart and beyond that to the men and women who served this country. We wouldn’t be here today if those men and women weren’t willing to lay down their lives and do what’s right. For those of you who never asked for it but did it anyway, it means the world to us and you mean the world to us.”
Burns spoke of U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Brian Burgess, a 1999 Cleburne High School graduate, who was killed in action on March 29, 2011 in Afghanistan and went on to call all veterans and service men and women the very definition of heroism.
“[Heros] do the job nobody else can or will do,” Burns said in reading from his definition of what a hero is. “They seek the betterment of others. They keep their word. They glorify God. A hero draws people into God’s kingdom. They have an uncanny patience to deal with the failure of others. Yet they know the importance of accountability and helping others grow.
“Heros pray sincerely for each other and heros hold the ladder for each other. Most importantly, the heros I’ve known in my life, reflect the light of Christ.”
Johnson County Veterans Services Officer Kathryn Fasci spoke of the importance of remembering, and of America’s role in the larger world.
“We take for granted the freedom we walk in and take for granted our country,” Fasci said. “But the reality is that we would be a third-world country or speaking Japanese or German if it wasn’t for our veterans. They’re responsible not only for securing the freedoms that built up our country, but also helping other nations. America, being as great as it is, has continued to step up and help others less fortunate.”
Fasci reminded the Purple Heart recipients present that special veterans’ benefits available only to Purple Heart recipients exist and that those as well as benefits applying to other veterans have been changed in positive directions. Fasci encouraged all veterans to contact their veterans services office to ensure they are receiving all the benefits they’re due.
Fasci concluded by addressing those veterans present in Post 50.
“Your service has made a world of difference for all of us more than any of you can imagine,” Fasci said.
County Judge Roger Harmon spoke of past prosperity and future legacy.
“We live in a great country and we do that because of our veterans,” Harmon said. “They secured the freedoms we have not only for us but for our kids and grandkids, too.”
Harmon and Johnson County commissioners recently proclaimed Aug. 7 as Purple Heart Recipient Day in Johnson County.
Harmon spoke of his father’s service during World War II as a POW prison guard initially in Mexia but later in Cleburne. The former German POW camp was located where the Cleburne Conference Center now sits, Harmon said.
VFW Allmon-Burgess Memorial Post 12152 Commander Jon Laureles spoke of Johnson County’s support of veterans.
“We’re very blessed to live in a country and community where we still honor veterans and still come together to take the time to remember what they did.”
Lorin Storey, commander of the Military Order of the Purple Heart, mixed humor wit the heartfelt.
“I took speech in high school and college,” Storey said. “I wish I would’ve paid attention. High school was the best six years of my life.”
Storey received his Purple Heart in 1968 during the Tet Offensive while serving in Vietnam.
“This talk of calling us heros,” Storey said. “I don’t know any Purple Heart veteran who considers themselves a hero. We just did our jobs.”
All the same, the appreciation is much appreciated, Storey said.
“I was walking through Wal-mart recently and a young lady came up and thanked me for my service,” Storey said. “And I told her that really means a lot to me. I told her that she’s probably too young to remember but that when we came back we were spit on, cussed and called names. So it means a lot to me, to us, to have someone thank us for our service.”
Purple Heart recipient Mike Rabye, who also served in Vietnam, said he considers the ones who didn’t come home to be the real heros.
Recipient Benny Torres, drafted into the U.S. Army in time to arrive in Vietnam on July 4, 1967, said he is proud to be a veteran and that it’s times like this, when veterans gather together, that he’s most proud.
Recipient Doug Cagney, who served in Vietnam beginning in 1968, said he only ever wanted to do his part.
“I always say, when someone thanks me, that it was my honor and that’s how I feel,” Cagney said. “I didn’t do anything special except for my job.”
Recipient Scott Manning, another Vietnam veteran, spoke of the divide in America both in the 1960s and now.
“When you see a Vietnam veteran tell them welcome home and thank you for your service,” Manning said. “Because they didn’t get that before while they were there or when they came home.”
Johnson County Commissioner Rick Bailey thanked the veterans for sharing their stories.
“Those stories need to be shared with our children,” Bailey said. “The world they’re growing up in, they’re not getting the real truth. They’re not learning the history and the sacrifice that it takes. They take prayer out of school, take this knowledge away from them. How are they going to know where they’re going if they don’t know where we’ve been?”
One veteran said he frequently visits with students adding that the questions they ask and interest they express are amazing.
Story added that the Burleson Public Library urges veterans to be interviewed and share their stories, which the library records on DVD.
A century of service
American Legion Auxiliary Past President for Texas Marty Peters urged attendees to pencil in Sept. 19, which marks the 100th anniversary of Cleburne’s American Legion Post. Civilian Conservation Corps workers built the current building in 1935, Peters said, before that members met in the basement of the Johnson County Courthouse.
A celebration is planned that day at the post with details to be announced soon.
A balloon release in memory of POW/MIA service men and women is also scheduled for Sept. 20.
Peters encouraged attendees to take time to look through the photos of past Post 50 commanders. Cleburne, in 1922, installed the first female commander in Texas, Peters said.
“Also, on Sept. 11 from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. the steel beam from the World Trade Center that the city has will be on display at Cleburne High School Football stadium,” Peters said. “Think about that. It’s been 18 years, which means our elementary and high school students weren’t alive when it happened. That’s why it’s important to take them by there can see it, touch it and learn about that history.”