With eyes on Memorial Day, retired Army Lt. Col. Terry Barron intended to present the Peach State Bank with a flag that flew with her through the skies over Iraq.
In a ceremony that, like the holiday itself, was at times somber and joyful, Barron did just that — but bank directors and the city of Gainesville left her with a surprise: a day named in her honor.
Barron, the state’s first female pilot of the Blackhawk helicopter and the former chair of Brenau University’s math and science department, spoke to an audience of more than 100 people during the bank’s annual seafood boil for its members.
“She is a combat veteran with a tour in Iraq,” said longtime friend Mickey Hyder during his introduction of Barron. “And I think I can safely say she was not teaching math while she was over there.”
The 30-year member of the Georgia National Guard and the Army reserves deployed with the 171st Aviation Regiment to Iraq in 2011.
Since retired, she presented the bank with one of the American flags that flew with her during her missions.
Barron told stories about her time in the Middle East. She offered poignant recollections of aviators flying “hero missions,” when they were put to the task of recovering soldiers and others killed during deployments, and watching experienced fighters and gunmen be touched by the responsibility of carrying a comrade from the battlefield.
At one point, she implored audience members to be understanding of their military friends and family who struggle to return to daily life after deployments.
“Please be patient with them — even if it takes a long time,” Barron said, her voice tensing. “There can be some bitterness sometime, and it’s still a fight that we struggle with every day.”
Again and again, Barron noted that the county wouldn’t forget the sacrifices of soldiers who gave their lives in the nation’s wars.
She and her husband, fellow veteran and aviator Rickie Barron, presented Peach State Bank with the flag that flew with her Blackhawk, and in turn Gainesville Mayor Danny Dunagan and the City Council declared May 25 Lt. Col. Terry Barron Day to honor the soldier and professor, who now teaches math at Georgia Gwinnett College in Lawrenceville.
While much of Barron’s speech was focused on remembering America’s fallen soldiers, the veteran said after her speech that Memorial Day shouldn’t be a sorrowful holiday for the United States.
“When we were overseas, we wanted people to party because we wanted to party as well when we come back,” she told The Times. “I know there’s fallen soldiers and it’s bittersweet because there’s all this joy and somberness … but I think if the fallen soldiers would look down they would love that, seeing the families together and the barbecues and the fun.”