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Memorial celebration honors troops

STONE MOUNTAIN, Ga. (BP)–Nearly 100,000 gathered at Stone Mountain, Ga., over Memorial Day weekend to pay tribute to active duty and veteran U.S. troops and their families.

LifeWay Christian Resources and Holman Bible Outreach International (HBOI) partnered with Task Force Patriot USA, General Motors, O’Reilly Auto Parts and Stone Mountain Park to sponsor the three-day event dubbed a “Task Force Patriot Salute to the Troops.”

Like millions of Americans across the nation, guests paused to give thanks for the men and women who serve the United States, to honor them for their selfless service and to reflect on the sacrifices veterans have made to protect the nation’s freedom.

At each of the three Task Force Patriot booths guests were offered free copies of the new paperback Holman CSB Military Bible. Approximately 3,000 Bibles were given away through Holman Bible Outreach International, an entity of LifeWay Christian Resources that functions as a Bible society. One woman requested and received a case of Bibles for Fort Benning, Ga., soldiers about to leave for Iraq.

“This event was all about honoring the men and women serving in our armed forces and their families,” said Phill Burgess, executive director of HBOI, adding that the Holman CSB Military Bible is “designed to meet the specific needs of military personnel.”

Former SBC President Bobby Welch, a decorated Vietnam War veteran and author of “You, The Warrior Leader,” published by B&H Publishing Group, spoke at a Sunday worship service and at a men’s conference on Monday, where he read a letter of greeting from President Bush.

“It’s just a joy to say ‘thank you’ to our vets,”‘ Welch said. “If I could shake just three veterans hands, it would be worth the travel.”

Welch suggested people make a habit out of greeting soldiers with, “Welcome home! Thank you for your service to our country!” He also encouraged people to stay involved and committed, even when times get tough.

“Never, never, never give up on America, no matter how bad it gets,” he said. “That’s the very time to make your life count.”

Daily activities included musicians, singers and military and civilian motivational speakers. An exhibition area included display aircraft, a bomb disposal robot and a medical corps mobile museum. Each evening guests enjoyed a two-hour concert by the USAF Heartland of America Jazz Band on the main stage followed by a 45-minute patriotic laser show.

Speaker after speaker expressed gratitude and admiration toward the men and women in uniform.

“I am very honored to be a servant to our troops,” said country musician Aaron Tippin, who provided a free concert Sunday night. For years he has made visits to members of what he calls “the finest fighting force in the world,” including annual visits to American forces in Iraq. Tippin told the crowd that the U.S. military is rebuilding communities in Iraq, and that U.S. soldiers bring food, medicine and toys ñ- sometimes out of their own pockets -ñ to orphanages.

“It’s awesome to see the public expression of what every American shares in his or her heart,” said Navy Commander Brett Korade, who recently returned from El Salvador.

Jim Freeman, a retired U.S. Army major, and founder/CEO of the Atlanta-based Task Force Patriot USA, is urging churches to find ways to connect better with soldiers and offering Task Force Patriot’s website, www.taskforcepatriot.com, as a resource. Task Force Patriot is a nonprofit organization that helps U.S. military veterans and their families in times of physical, spiritual and emotional need.

“Events like this bring unity,” said Nancy McShane whose husband, Mike, served in the Air Force for 10 years. “It makes you feel appreciated for what your spouse did.”

“This type of event pulls people back toward patriotism,” Mike McShane added.

For James L. Reed, who fought in the Battle of the Bulge in World War II and received a Purple Heart, the highlight of the weekend was simply “people shaking my hand and congratulating me.”

Wiping away a tear in his eye, he added softly, “It’s very touching.”

    About the Author

  • Don Beehler