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Military veterans honored with events this weekend

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

Riverdale resident, Kit Kitsmiller, 85, vividly remembers where he was when he heard the news: President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was dead.

The Army veteran had fallen off a tank in Italy, leaving him temporarily paralyzed for a night. It was during his recuperation, when his doctor told Kitsmiller that he'd qualified for early leave. Kitsmiller was told to pick between the options of going home on a cruise ship, or back to the front lines.

"You really have to ask me that?" Kitsmiller said he told his doctor, "get me on the ship." Kitsmiller said he would soon hear bigger news, though.

The ship was half way across the ocean, headed home, when the captain came over the intercom. The service men and women on the ship thought they were about to be told to clean the deck. They were wrong.

The captain then gave the news to his passengers. The president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, was dead.

"You could have heard a pin fall on cotton after the captain said that," Kitsmiller said.

"We were so close to winning the war, and we were sure the old boy [Roosevelt] was going to see it to the end with us. We couldn't believe he was dead," Kitsmiller said.

Military veterans, like Kitsmiller, will be honored this weekend as the nation observes Veterans Day, on Sunday.

Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré, the First Army Commander from Fort Gillem, will be the keynote speaker Saturday during an 11 a.m., ceremony held at Riverdale City Hall, 6690 Church St. It is sponsored by Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 3650.

Honoré also will be the grand marshal, and reviewing official at the Georgia Veterans Day Parade on Sunday. The parade will begin at 11 a.m., and will travel down Marietta Street in Atlanta.

Ron Stubbs, commander of the VFW post in Riverdale, said military veterans see Veterans Day as a way to remember their fallen comrades who lost their lives serving in combat.

Stubbs is a veteran of the Vietnam War, and Operation Enduring Freedom. He said the day means a little bit more to veterans of the wars in Korea, and Vietnam, because those wars aren't as publicly recognized as both world wars.

"When I came home [from Vietnam], there was an officer waiting as we got off the boat, and that was it," Stubbs said. "Korea veterans, and Vietnam veterans, fought the wars no one wants to talk about. They won't even call them wars. They are called 'police actions.' "

Jonesboro resident, Carl Slade, was one of the servicemen who went to Korea. Slade was a flight engineer on a B-26 bomber. His oldest son, Ross, later served in Vietnam. Slade remembered when a bomber he was on was shot down in the area where the line between north and south Korea was being disputed.

"The line fluctuated so much," Slade said. "Fortunately, the [United States] army was there to get us out before the other guys [the North Korean army] found us."

While Stubbs believes the conflicts in Korea and Vietnam get lost when talking about the nation's military history, he also said there has been a change in how those veterans are viewed in recent years.

"It's [Veterans Day] special now because, when we came home, no one cared," Stubbs said. "Now, because of 9/11, people are starting to recognize the sacrifices we made for their country."

The new found recognition doesn't ease the painful memories some of these veterans carry with them, though.

Jonesboro resident, William Roman, an engineer who helped build roads and airstrips in Vietnam from 1970-71, said his memories of the war include building transportation routes during the day, and fighting the Vietcong at night.

One day, while he was on a bulldozer, Roman was shot in the leg and the knee by a sniper. He now walks with the assistance of a cane.

"It was rough," he said. "We were pretty much the first ones to go in, so we had to clear the land. Some veterans talk about being exposed to Agent Orange. We dug it up!"

While Veterans Day holds special meaning for the veterans of WWII, Korea and Vietnam, it also has a special place for relatives of military veterans now in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"I'll tell people that my son is a marine serving in Iraq, and they just go, 'Oh,'" said Cindy Sellards, a counselor at Babb Middle School. "I don't care what other people think. I'm proud of him."

Sellards remembers when her hometown, North Platte, Neb., shut down for Veterans Day. The schools had the day off, residents put flags everywhere, and a parade marched through the heart of town. Her son, Lance Cpl. Shawn Sellards, is currently serving in the Iraqi city of Fallujah.

Sellards has organized a power point presentation honoring faculty members who served in the military, as well as military family members of students, which will run on her school's TV screens during the morning announcements.

There are about 30 teachers at Babb Middle who are military veterans. Still, she thinks people in the area should do more to celebrate Veterans Day.

"We should have that day off, so kids can go to a parade, or watch some educational program on TV about veterans," Sellards said.