Economic times may be bad, but patriotism appears to be soaring to new heights in Thomson. This year's Veterans Day activities had much more attendance than in years past.
"America likes freedom," Pearl Harbor survivor Roger Reid said in a speech last Wednesday at McDuffie Place. "And thousands have died to show the world we will defend that freedom."
A free lunch at McDuffie Place, which was formerly the Thomson High School FFA cabin at Clarks Hill Lake, was the final activity of the day. The lunch was provided by McDuffie Achievement Center and Thomson High School, with help from the local Veterans of Foreign Wars post.
"As a school board member, I promise you I will push with all my heart to make this an annual affair," said Board of Education member Dexter Lovins, who is a veteran. "We owe so much to our veterans, and this is too important."
Approximately 44 people attended the lunch, which consisted of hamburgers and hot dogs served by MAC students and speeches by Mr. Reid and retired Army First Sgt. Forrest Crutfield.
Now 87 years old, retired Army Master Sgt. Reid told of how he first joined the military, signing up with the Army, Marines and Navy all in one day, and waiting to see "who would be the lucky one" to call him first. Shortly out of boot camp when he was 19 years old, Mr. Reid said his unit stopped at Pearl Harbor the day before they were supposed to sail out to the Philippines on Dec. 8, 1941.
He shared the memory of seeing the "planes with the red rising sun on them" approaching as he walked to the breakfast chow line, how the soldiers' weapons were locked up and separated from the ammunition, and the victorious feeling that came when they managed to get two machine guns on top of the barracks and shoot two planes down.
"It wasn't quite like making a touchdown, but it was something else," Mr. Reid said.
Mr. Crutfield's story began 10 years later than Pearl Harbor. The 75-year-old said he was only 17 when he joined the Army, making him too young to be sent to the Korean War, which was going on at that time. Instead, he ended up on a tank crew in Operation Gyroscope, trading outfits in Bamberg, Germany, after the end of World War II. There, he said he "had the misfortune of seeing a prison camp in the holocaust."
Although his words described the horrific scenes of the camp, Mr. Crutfield's countenance glowed throughout his speech with an obvious joy and pride of his many years' of military service. He went on to tell of being an instructor of leadership for combat and peace time, of serving with air mobile divisions and reconnaissance units in Vietnam, and of teaching search and rescue in Alaska.
"It was the most beautiful place on earth," he said. "But shortly after I arrived there, I was promoted to first sergeant, and as soon as that happened, they sent me back to Vietnam."
Veterans who served in World War II, Korean War, War in Vietnam and Desert Storm attended all three events.
The morning started out with a Veterans' Canteen, complete with pastries and coffee at the Thomson-McDuffie Library and sponsored by the Friends of the Library and the VFW Auxiliary.
After the Canteen, everyone walked across the street to the Veterans Memorial Marker on the courthouse lawn for a wreath-laying ceremony.
"It's an honor for us to thank those who have fought to keep us free," Thomson Mayor Kenneth Usry said. "We thank you and thank the families of those who are on the foreign field."
As VFW Post 6672 Commander Milton Keene read a poem during the ceremony, almost all in attendance bowed their head in reverence. Mr. Reid shut his eyes as if recalling that fateful day so long ago.
"I don't mean for my story to sound like I'm boastful," he said during his speech later that day. "In fact, over 30 years passed before I ever told anyone I was there (Pearl Harbor). It was so gruesome and horrible. I'm sure many went through worse than I did. But, when a person has to pick up body parts in barracks and fill the trash cans with them, it really affects you."