ALBANY, Ga. -- On this Saturday before Veterans Day, the Sowega Veterans Coalition will honor of military veterans by presenting the fifth annual Salute to Veterans at Veterans Park Amphitheater, Albany Civic Center.
Paul Murray, coalition chairman, said the event will begin with a music prelude at 9:45 a.m.by the Deerfield-Windsor high school band.
The salute will continue to the March on the Colors presented by Monroe High School USAF Junior ROTC, the national anthem performed by Marilyn McClelland and posting of colors. A medley of armed forces songs will be performed before McClelland sings "America the Beautiful."
Guest speaker for the event is Lee James, who served eight months as a prisoner of war when his B-17 bomber was shot down over Germany in World War II. James will speak on four of his most dangerous missions before being captured.
Following the ceremonies, there will be a parade of vehicles from the Civic Center to the VFW at 315 Philema Road, where there will be music, food and refreshments, a live auction and more, Murray said.
On display at the VFW will be a Navy UH1 Seawolf attack helicopter of the type used in the Vietnam War. According to Murray, the aircraft were used as support for the U.S. Navy swift boats patrolling the Mekong Delta.
Murray said the annual ceremony and parade are not only to honor U.S. veterans of all wars but also to help generate a sense of pride and appreciation for the military.
Murray is puzzled,why Albany, with more veterans than any other city in the area, appears, in his opinion, to be lukewarm toward military personnel. According to Murray, most every other town, including Panama City, Atlanta, Savannah, Thomasville and Moultrie have a formal parade, with marching bands and floats, rather than Albany's simple parade of vehicles.
"It's not costing the city anything," Murray said. "Everything is taken care of by our company sponsors, Budwiser and SASCO Chemicals."
According to Murray, the Veterans Salute initiative faces excessive "red tape" each year in applying for a simple parade of vehicles. In any sort of parade format, he would like to see more support from residents in decorating their own vehicles with positive pro-military messages or marching in groups.
"Our purpose is to support veteran programs and events," Murray said of the veterans coalition, "like the Field of Flags and Salute to Veterans. One of our current projects is the establishment of a World War II memorial at Veterans Park. We have a memorial for Vietnam vets but not for those of World War II."
Murray said that each year, proceeds from the Salute auction will be presented to an organization selected by the coalition. This year the recipient will be the Purple Heart Outdoor Tour, an organization providing hunting and fellowship opportunities for profoundly injured military veterans and firefighters.
According to Murray, the Sowega Veteran's Coalition was formed as a means to distribute information to all the veterans groups in the Dougherty County area and is formally organizing into a meaningful organization that participates in Community and veteran functions. Participating in the coalition are eleven local veteran-oriented groups, including American Legion posts, the VFW, and Vietnam Veterans Post #1.