When the Thronateeska Heritage Center and the Georgia DOT asked us if we wanted to be involved in a decommissioning and commissioning ceremony for the Broad Avenue Bridge, our newly formed Southwest Georgia Veterans Coalition was honored to be asked.
The SOWEGA Veterans Coalition was formed in September 2010 to pass information amongst the various veterans groups in the area and to continue some type of veteran's recognition for Veterans Day weekend. It has been the driving force for the "Salute to Veterans" ceremony at the Civic Center Veterans Park Amphitheatre for the past two years. This coalition of veterans consists of representatives and Commanders of the American Legion Posts 30 and 512, Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2785, Marine Corps League, Air Force Sergeants Association, Disabled American Veterans, Vietnam Veterans Association and Fleet Reserve in Southwest Georgia.
Early last year, we met with members of Georgia DOT and Thronateeska at the Heritage Center to develop a plan for a Broad Avenue Bridge ceremony and discussed the various plaques that were still enshrined on the bridge. The plans were to take the plaques down and when the bridge was rebuilt, place the World War I dedication plaque back on to the new bridge. Since technically this would be a new bridge, I suggested that the bridge not only retain the dedication plaques to those who served in WWI, but also add a plaque dedicated to those who have served since. This was unanimously approved by all present. I later submitted the wording that would represent those who have served since WWI.
The plans for this bridge have been going on since 1987 and if anyone has ever watched different segments on TV that has described the serious deterioration and even collapse of our old bridges in the U.S., it is no wonder there was concern for this nearly 100-year-old bridge.
In the mid '80s, a Hurricane came through Albany and the city had no adequate escape route. Again, during the floods of the mid-'90s, the same problem and they were all shut down. This is one of many reasons the GDOT and city wants another reliable bridge across the Flint, plus adding another Clark Avenue bridge.
Many months after our meeting, publicity appeared about a "Save the Broad Avenue Bridge" site on Facebook. Truly a late, last-minute effort to change this to a pedestrian walkway, while DOT inspectors said it wasn't even safe to walk on it. I say "last minute" because, according to the officials that attended the public forums for the past five years, no one showed up in opposition or to save this bridge.
Our veterans group is not opposed to those who want to save the bridge. We are only there because we were asked and we will comply with that request to honor those that the bridge was dedicated to, with a special ceremony. When the U.S. Marine Corps Band found out about the ceremony, they asked to be part of it, this being the last performance of its type by the band.
The DOT could have just as well gone ahead with the plan of razing the bridge and then building it without any fanfare. But this bridge was built and dedicated in 1920 to those in Dougherty County who served in the "Great War" the war to end all wars. The "Last Doughboy" from the U.S., Frank Buckles, died last year. There are no WWI combat warriors left in the World. There is only the memorial of their sacrifice.
On Saturday at 11 o'clock, (the No. 11 has WWI significance as to the ending of WWI) behind the old Bridge House on Front Street, we would like all the people in the area to come together and participate in this event. It would be a special tribute for those to put aside their differences, those who would come to this special ceremony, not only to thank an award-winning military band, possibly for the last time, but also pay tribute to our veterans for whom the bridge stood for and will stand for again.
Paul B. Murray of Albany is ad hoc chairman of the SOWEGA Veterans Coalition and vice commander of VFW Post 2785.