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McDonough hosts annual breakfasts for veterans

By Jason A. Smith

jsmith@henryherald.com

Paul Hooten and Jess Porter appeared moved by the recognition shown to them this week. The two Locust Grove residents were among nearly 200 people honored by the City of McDonough, as part of the overall upcoming national observance of Veterans Day.

Hooten, 70, served as a hospital corpsman in Vietnam. Porter, 81, was a schoolteacher in Germany, during the Korean War.

Hooten said he appreciated the desire by McDonough leaders to remember the military.

"I think it's wonderful, giving back, in respect to some that gave it all," Hooten said.

Porter said he was also grateful, calling the city's gesture a "first-class" effort in honor of veterans.

The recognition of the two servicemen came as the City of McDonough held its fourth annual Veterans Day Breakfast, Monday and Tuesday, at the Heritage Senior Center. It is a prelude to a national commemoration of Veterans Day, Nov. 11.

McDonough Mayor Billy Copeland said his city's breakfast event, was born from the desire of city leaders to honor, and thank, veterans for their sacrifices and service.

The mayor said veterans in Henry County continue to display their support for the annual observance.

"It's just been a wonderful event," said Copeland, 77. "[Monday] we had about 100 people, and [Tuesday] we had about 75 or 80."

Military personnel from World War II, the Vietnam conflict, and Desert Storm, were among those in attendance during the two-day breakfasts.

"That's the reason we are here today, because of their service to our nation," the mayor said.

Copeland's assistant, Leslie Balog, coordinated the breakfast event. She said the annual breakfast is designed for anyone who has served in the military, not just McDonough residents.

"We invite people throughout the county," said Balog, 30. "I think not just in McDonough, but in Henry County as a whole, we just like to honor our veterans," she said. "This is an important week for us. We've always had a tremendous response, and a lot of positive feedback that they enjoy this time to come together, see their friends and hear their stories, and their common military experience."

At Tuesday's breakfast, Army Capt. Annette O'Banion, who is also a Henry County businesswoman, spoke.

O'Banion said being a part of the breakfast "means everything" to her, and causes her to reflect on her past military experiences.

"These are my brothers and sisters, and they are my credentials," said O'Banion, 54. "Even though I was out of uniform, I was a special representative advisor to the Department of Defense and the Department of the Army during 9/11. I watched as [an airplane] went through the windows at the Pentagon. Those were our offices where the plane went through.

"I think it's important that we tell everyone that it doesn't happen outside of here," O'Banion continued. "It happens here, and these are the people willing to dedicate their lives to us, and we want to know who they are."

Also featured at the breakfast Tuesday was Luella High School senior Travis Harris, who suffers from osteogenesis imperfecta, or brittle-bone disease. The wheelchair-bound 17-year-old is the first disabled student in Georgia to complete all four years of the Navy Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (NJROTC) at Luella High, officials said.

"We had heard about him, and were so impressed with the character that he represents," Balog said. "We wanted him to be here, and he provided our pledge of allegiance."

Harris is hopeful that his appearance at the breakfast sends a positive message about perseverance.

"I hope that people are inspired to not give up, and to not quit, and to always give 100 percent," he said. "If I can do it, anybody else can."

Mayor Copeland said city leaders are already in the planning stages for next year's Veterans Day breakfast.

"We encourage all veterans to call my office at City Hall," he said. "That way, we can put them on our mailing list next year. You don't need an invitation, if you're a veteran, but it's helpful for us, for them to call, so we can send them a personal invitation from city hall."

Veterans who wish to receive an invitation to attend future breakfasts, can contact Mayor Copeland's office by e-mail, at bcopeland@mcdonough-ga.gov, or by phone at (770) 957-3915.