Video coverage from the event will be available at gainesvilletimes.com on Veterans Day, Nov. 11.
On Sept. 11, 2001, Andrew Pedry woke up in Okinawa and realized his training was about to be tested.
“(I) asked my squad leader what we were wearing for PT that morning and he asked me if I’d seen the news,” he said.
Pedry and fellow veterans shared their experiences in the armed forces at “Voices: Veterans” Thursday night in Gainesville.
The veterans spoke to a crowd of roughly 25 people at The Loft at Scott’s Downtown for the event sponsored by The Times.
The night of storytelling kicked off with an interview of Gabe Shippy, who was stationed with the U.S. Army in South Korea.
Although his duty related to a war zone from 60 years ago, he said the area near the Korean Demilitarized Zone otherwise felt like a “normal garrison environment.”
“It didn’t really feel like a tense, hostile war zone unless there was a skirmish breaking out between North and South Korea, which does occasionally happen,” Shippy said.
At one point during his service, Shippy was taken through the tunnels near the DMZ that leads to a set of binoculars.
“You see right across from you North Korean soldiers that are standing armed and ready and looking right back at you,” Shippy said.
For younger Koreans, the area is something they’ve grown accustomed to, Shippy said.
A medic in Vietnam
With Uncle Sam pointing through the television screen during a commercial, the Rev. Evelyn Johnson of Bethel A.M.E. Methodist Church in Gainesville followed the opportunity of education as a U.S. Army medic in the Vietnam War.
She recalled the men who would come in for treatment, particularly one who asked for her to feel his head.
“I went to touch his head and half of his skull was blown off,” Johnson said.
Johnson said she sometimes wonders where the man ended up or the others coming in with detached limbs from landmines or the soldier with intestines hanging out of his body.
Her goal, she said, was to try to lift the spirits of servicemen who came in with devastating injuries.
Years later, Johnson received a flag in the mail with a letter stating it had flown over the Capitol in her honor.
“Even to this day, I can’t imagine anything that I did that caused my name to be lifted out of so many thousands and to have a flag associated with my name,” she said. “It’s still baffling.”
A Marine in Afghanistan
With a deployment in Afghanistan, Aaron McKeithan of the U.S. Marines discussed the downtime of watching seven seasons of “How I Met Your Mother” in a week to finding yourself under fire.
The moments in combat brought a sense of reality to the situation as it’s “easy to forget you’re in a war zone,” McKeithan said.
McKeithan returned to the University of North Georgia, as he considers himself someone that can easily adapt. His fellow Marines coming back to lives stateside have struggled.
“I have more friends who have committed suicide than I have lost in combat,” McKeithan said.
A sniper’s story
In the days following Sept. 11, 2001, Pedry said his fellow Marines watched the news with the growing realization that a war in Iraq was imminent.
Pedry, who is now a history teacher at Riverside Military Academy, said he sought the position of scout sniper as a role requiring a quick mind and sound judgment.
“Every time they pull the trigger, a bad guy dies,” Pedry said.
With each decision to target an enemy combatant, the former scout sniper said the Marine should make the best decision with the information available to stop a threat.
Many of the audience questions were directed at Pedry concerning the strategy involved with scout sniping.
“Once you’ve taken that first shot, maybe two, it’s time to leave,”
Air Force veteran Jesse James, said the event taught him more about the service of different branches through different time periods of U.S. history.
“It makes us all of us appreciate more the sacrifice that everybody has made to make sure that we’re safe,” Gainesville City Councilwoman Myrtle Figueras said.