First Assembly pays tribute to vets

Published 11:28 am Wednesday, July 6, 2005

By By Adam Prestridge
During times of war, God is needed more than ever.
Atmore First Assembly of God praised Him for his many blessings before, during and after war and honored those that fought for our freedom during a special Sunday service held July 3.
The church's congregation, their friends and family and guest gathered to lift up God's name during the Fourth of July celebration that has become a tradition for more than 15 years.
"This is just something unreal for me," World War II veteran Staff Sgt. and Purple Heart recipient Roy Johnson of Brewton said. "I'm a 55-year veteran and I've never had anything like this done for me. It's just amazing. When you look around you see why we were going through those bloody battles. It's paying off."
Johnson, along with T/Sgt. Grady Slay, Staff Sgt. Aubrey Stanley, Staff Sgt. Billy Pharris and Specialist 4th Class Richard Keesler, were all recognized for their service to our country during the ceremony, which included patriotic songs by the church choir, narration of historical facts by Doug Waters and Sara Davis and a war drama by Randy Albritton, Roy White, Mariah Albritton and Levi Gideons.
"It touches you," Staff Sgt. Stanley said following the hour and a half long service. "If it doesn't touch your heart and bring a tear to your eye, you're not American. I got cold chills. I wore that uniform for 12 years and I respect it as much today as I did when I wore it. People like the ones that were standing up here today are why we have the freedom to come up here and talk today."
Pastor W. Don Davis said the event has become a Fourth of July tradition for the church after it weighed on the congregations hearts several years back.
"We just felt led years ago to honors our veterans," Davis said. "We wanted to somehow, at that time, reestablish patriotism in the hearts of our youth because a lot of times when the flag would be raised kids would be playing. Patriotism seemed to be at an all-time low at that time. We just wanted to do something to honor them."
The service also included video clips and snapshots honoring members of Alabama's National Guard 711th Signal Battalion for their service during the War in Iraq. The service touched many.
"You can't express how I feel," Slay said. "I wore that uniform for 20 years and if I was a young man, I would do it again."
Even though the veterans were honored to be on hand for recognition, Davis said they were all "reluctant about coming."
"Mr. (Roy) Johnson said, he hoped he was worthy," he said. "Here's a guy that was wounded two times and was wondering if he was worthy. A German nearly shot his leg off and he saw so many men die. They're very humble guys. Every year, they're always very reluctant to let us honor them."
As for the event itself, Davis believes it went well.
"It was one of the best," he said. "The community and the church are 100 percent behind this. A lot of folks postponed their vacations for this."
Following the service, Davis was already beginning plans for next Fourth of July.
"This is an annual thing, we'll do it every year from now on," Davis said. "Every year it gets a little bit bigger."

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