Photo by Kathy Jefcoats
Former U.S. Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Marvin Helton salutes the flag with his wife, Louise, next to him. Helton, 91, served his country during WWII.
By Kathy Jefcoats
REX — Compared to WWII veterans James Daniel, 92, and Marvin Helton, 91, Robert Adrian Worthington was just a baby.
He was, in fact, Rhonda Stiffey Worthington's baby, known to his family as Bubba. At 17, he signed up for the Army, ready to fight to defend his country and his freedoms — our freedoms.
Two years later, in 2007, he died in a bomb blast in Taji. He was 19. He'd never married or fathered a child. He had hoped to start college after returning home from Iraq.
Instead, his mother has memories, photos, a community garden in Rex and now the town's bridge as tangible evidence her son won't be forgotten. He isn't one of thousands of Americans killed fighting overseas. He was her son, Kaylin Worthington's brother, Treylin Mulkey's uncle and Clayton County's hero.
"Losing a child is the worse thing that can happen," said Rhonda Worthington Wednesday during a bridge dedication ceremony honoring all Clayton County veterans. "When you cross that bridge, think about the veterans. These people belonged to somebody. They mattered to someone."
Dignitaries and residents turned out Wednesday for the bridge dedication, which was moved inside the Carl Rhodenizer Recreation Center on Rex Road because of rain. Daniel, a former U.S. Army staff sergeant, and Helton, a U.S. Air Force senior master sergeant, attended with their families.
Widow Jackie Cobb attended on behalf of her husband of 37 years, retired airman Norman Cobb, who died in 1999. Cobb served his country in Vietnam and Korea, she said. She lived in Rex for 41 years, before recently moving.
"I wish he could be here to see this," she said, holding a framed photo of him in uniform. "This is the most wonderful thing in the world. Veterans paid a price for us to be free. I'm happy with it and I know he's looking down, smiling and saying, 'Way to go.'"
Helton arrived in a motor scooter, fretting over having left his glasses at home. He borrowed daughter Stephanie Norton's pair for a bit but shortly returned them. His wife of 66 years, Louise Helton, sported red, white and blue in honor of the occasion. Grandson Jeff Kaminski also attended.
When Helton was called to the podium, he spoke briefly before turning over the microphone to his loquacious better half.
"This is my hero," she said, before launching into the story of how her husband joined the military with a buddy of his. Helton grew up in Rex, having worked as a water boy at the mill.
The two young men saw the writing of the impending war on the wall and decided to enlist, she said.
"He told Marvin, 'Let's go to Jonesboro, Ga., and enlist,'" she recalled. "They got to Jonesboro and there was a long line and a short line. His friend said, 'Let's get into the short line,' not knowing what it was for."
Turns out, they got in the line for the Army Air Corp and joined up. They were sent all over the country to be trained in various schools, she said. They boarded a train for California and then a ship for 28 days to Saipan. There they stayed for 19 months, fighting Japanese soldiers.
When the war ended with the United States' bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945, Helton made the long journey back to Rex.
"They sailed up under the Golden Gate Bridge and shouted, 'We're home, America,'" she said. "'We're back.'"
Once back home, Helton soon met his bride-to-be and they married several months later. They raised five children.
"If he crossed that bridge once, he's crossed it a thousand times," she said. "I wear my red shirt every Friday and we fly the flag proudly." Some people who support American troops have started a tradition of wearing red on Fridays.
When she handed her husband the microphone back, he was brief.
"She's said enough," he said, to the laughter of other guests.
Norton said her dad is working on his memoirs, reflecting back on nine decades of his life.
Dignitaries at the ceremony included Clayton County Commission Chairman Jeff Turner, who introduced his veteran father, Eddie Turner, Commissioner Sonna Singleton, Jonesboro Mayor Pro Tem Pat Sebo, state Reps. Sandra Scott and Demetrius Douglas and state Department of Transportation board member Dana Lemon. Clayton County police Chief Greg Porter also attended.
Singleton, whose district includes Rex, said she was proud to be part of the ceremony, as her father is a WWII veteran, her brother is a retired Naval lieutenant commander, she has nephews in the Army and Navy and another brother in the Air Force.
"I come from a military family, so it's great to be here," she said.
Turner echoed her sentiments.
"My father served in Vietnam and Korea," said Turner. "Thank God, he came home safely every time. Unfortunately, some gave the ultimate sacrifice, others came home with psychological issues and not appreciated. Our freedoms should never, ever be taken for granted."