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How local veterans groups, supporters got a headstart on Veterans Day
Members of the Believers Band perform during a veteran's appreciation event at Roosevelt Square on Saturday, Nov. 3, 2018. - photo by Austin Steele

A mix of veterans groups and their supporters settled on Roosevelt Square in downtown Gainesville on Saturday to celebrate those who serve our country.

It was the first collaborative veterans event in Gainesville as groups like the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 8452, American Legion Post 7, Marine Corps League 665 and the 40&8 Voiture 1317 joined together for an appreciation festival from noon to 3 p.m.

The Believers Concert Band, made up of members who range in age from 13 to 90-plus, was there playing songs like “The Washington Post March” and the “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

Jesse Johnson speaks to a crowd during a veteran's appreciation event at Roosevelt Square on Saturday, Nov. 3, 2018. - photo by Austin Steele

The program’s guest speaker, Jesse Johnson, who retired from the United States Army in 2001, described who he believes a veteran is.

“Veterans are men and women who donned the uniform of our country, and stand between freedom and tyranny, who take up the sword of justice in defense of the liberties we hold dear, who preserve peace and calm the winds of the war,” Johnson said.

He said he supports any sort of event, whether it’s Memorial Day, Veterans Day or an appreciation like the one Saturday, because it “pushes our military,” which he believes the country needs.

Lucy Valencia was sitting near the back, watching with her friend Regina Totty. Valencia moved from Colombia to New Jersey 34 years ago and came to Georgia in 1986. She said she was there to support veterans because “everybody who’s doing something for the country” deserves to be honored.

The event struck a different chord with her, though, because her son is training to be in law enforcement. Although he won’t be serving in the military, she said she is proud to have him serving the community. “I feel a little bit scared, but I just pray, like I pray every day for this country,” Valencia said. “I’m proud to be part of this country.”

Totty said her father, Obdish Harvey, served in the military. She knows because her mother passed down to her two American flags that belonged to him. She’s not sure where he served, but she said she’s still proud to know someone in her family did something like that.

“I think we should all be out representing,” Totty said. “We need these people, and we need the ones over there fighting for us now, too.”

As Valencia listened to a guest singing “You Raise Me Up,” as it echoed off the buildings surrounding Roosevelt Square, she quoted former President John F. Kennedy: “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”

“That’s what my main concern is every day, and that’s what I teach my children every day,” Valencia said. “I’ve got a son and a daughter, and they need to do the best for themselves and their country.”