Eleven gongs sounded at Lakewood Baptist Church Friday afternoon to kick off the American Legion Post 7’s program in honor of Veterans Day.
“It’s a solemn day … but it’s also an enjoyable day for me,” said Col. William Gallagher, the newest president of Riverside Military Academy.
Gallagher said his experience in the military has made the oft-quoted adage “Freedom Isn’t Free” important to him.
“That statement makes perfect sense to me now,” Gallagher said.
He then addressed a young crowd of Chestatee High School band students.
“You are a generation that has been influenced by war your entire lives,” he said. “That will influence your thinking in the future. You will fix some of the problems (my) generation has made.”
“We work to help widows, orphans, active and inactive military,” said Ron Kellner, a past commander for the group and master of ceremonies at the event.
Dave Dellinger, a five-time commander of the American Legion, recognized prisoners of war and missing in action veterans, and an empty table was set at the front of the stage to honor them.
“Let us remember and never forget their sacrifice,” Dellinger said. “And may God forever watch over them and protect them and their families.”
The American Legion meets at 7:30 p.m. every fourth Monday at the post on Riverside Drive and hosts bingo nights and dances. Funds they raise go directly to veterans in need.
Another scene unfolded Friday morning at the Rock Creek Veterans Park off Northside Drive in Gainesville.
The event honored all veterans, but focused on one in particular.
James Ed Clark, known to friends and family as just Ed, served in three wars: World War II, Korea and Vietnam. Afterward he came back to Gainesville and worked for Hardy Chevrolet.
“(We) want to thank him for his years of service,” Harold Goss said.
Clark walked up to the podium after being presented with a plaque, hat and flag.
“This is a surprise to me,” he said. “I didn’t expect anything like this. They kept telling me I had to be (at Rock Creek) today, but I didn’t know why.”
On the day the nation honored him and his comrades, he was thankful for more than their support. He has put in some effort in order to make Rock Creek Park what it is today, when he was able.
“(The park) means an awful lot to me,” Clark said.
Johnny Hulsey, who has known Clark since he was 8 years old and spoke about him at the event, said he was also grateful for the park.
“It’s come a long way in the past couple of years,” Hulsey said. “I’m just proud to be an American this morning.”
Judge-elect John Breakfield of the Hall County State Court was also there to honor the veterans and gave a speech.
“It is really amazing what our World War II vets did,” he said. “Millions of people were helped by them.”
He also recognized the Vietnam War veterans, who organized the event.
“How brave they were, going off to war knowing they were not fully supported by their country,” he said. “They weren’t appreciated for it, and that’s a shame.”
Breakfield said he grew up in the 1980s and didn’t participate in any wars himself.
“I am blessed to have lived in a time of peace, but the veterans have never lived in a time of peace,” he said. “We all owe (veterans) a major gratitude.”