Community honors memory of local veterans

Published 11:20 am Tuesday, May 31, 2022

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By JOYANNA LOVE | Managing Editor

Chilton County veterans who died while serving this country were honored during the annual Memorial Day ceremony on May 30 at the Chilton County Courthouse.

The event is held each year at the veterans memorial that lists all of the names of those who were killed while serving.  Each name was read during the ceremony.

“We are here this morning to remember (and) to thank,” Jerry Grooms of Enterprise Road American Legion Post 6 said. “… Never, ever, ever can we forget these people because without them we would not have the freedom that we have today.”

Lance Cpl. Nick Burnett of the U.S. Marine Corps was guest speaker for the event. Burnett was deployed to Iraq twice, first in 2007 and then in 2009.

“We get so caught up in everything that goes on in the world today that I think sometimes we don’t realize how good we have it,” Burnett said.

He said the veterans listed on the memorial “paved the way for us to be able to stand here in the middle of town and talk about freedom.”

Burnett is a Chilton County native and had family members who served in the military. His family emphasized the importance of sacrifice in achieving one’s goals.

“Not only did they tell me about how I should sacrifice and how I should live my life, but they also showed me, which let me to join the U.S. Marines in 2006,” Burnett said.

He said serving in the military showed him in a new light just how much others had done for him to be able to live in peace.

“It really hit home that freedom is not free that people that I did not have the pleasure of meeting, they had sacrificed,” Burnett said. “They chose to go and lay down their life for me.”

He took a moment to mention names of some of those he had served with that did not return.

He said veterans who died in combat are “the true American heroes.”

Burnett also thanked the families of those veterans who had died in the line of duty for making the sacrifice of losing a loved one.

The family of Olen Berry Williams was selected to place the wreath at the Chilton County veterans memorial during the ceremony this year.

Prior to the laying of the wreath, Bonny VanVechten told the audience about Williams’s service. Williams served in and survived D-Day and the Battle of the Bulge in World War II as a part of the 4th Infantry Division.

“On D-Day, June 6, 1944, Olen’s unit would go ashore at Utah Beach, becoming the first of the invasion forces to touch the coast of Normandy,” VanVechten said.

He was later a part of the occupying forces in Japan.

“And 10 years after his initial enlistment, Master Sgt. Williams, now 37 years old, would find himself assigned to the 7th Infantry Division, 31st Infantry Regiment and looking at deploying with a United Nations force to Korea,” VanVechten said.  “(On) Sept 15,1950, Olen would be doing another beach landing — this time at Incheon, South Korea under the command of General Douglas McArthur.”

The troops advanced toward China through North Korea in below freezing weather and were vastly outnumbered. Williams was listed as missing in action from the Chosin battlefield, and later officially listed as killed in action.

“In the years since, thousands of remains have been released from North Korea, including 500 from the Chosin battlefield. Those unable to be identified at the time were laid to rest at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific (the Punchbowl) in Hawaii,” VanVechten said. “In April 2013, a positive DNA match was made for Olen B. Williams. His body was removed from the Punchbowl and escorted back to Chilton County by a funeral detail from Fort Benning. Today, Master Sgt. Williams, a highly decorated non-commissioned officer, with both a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart, lays with his family at the Evergreen Cemetery in Verbena.”

Family members placed a wreath in front of the veteran memorial in his honor.

The ceremony closed with the playing of taps.