Tuesday, November 11, 2014, will forever be remembered as the day that completely transformed the way Veterans’ Day is celebrated in Snellville, Georgia. At 7:00 pm more than 400 people gathered in front of the recently completed Snellville Veterans’ Memorial to honor our nation’s military veterans, and witness the 1st annual Veterans’ Day Balloon Launch. Approximately 200 balloons, illuminated by flashing, multicolored LEDs ascended into the night sky creating an unforgettable sight. As the balloons rose, they were carried eastward by a light breeze and within a few minutes, they transformed the night sky into a light show reminiscent of the Milky Way.
In addition to Council Members Barbara Bender, Bobby Howard, Diane Krause, Tom Witts and myself, newly elected State Senator PK Martin and former Council member and State Representative Melvin Everson (who delivered the keynote address) also attended, as did a number veterans, some of whom brought a unique perspective to the evening. I was fortunate to be able to spend some time with a few of them, including Conrad Cheney, the oldest person in attendance.
A World War II Navy veteran, Mr. Cheney is 94 years old. Both he and his “kid brother”, who is only 93, were delighted to be there and we had quite a conversation about a variety of topics. After the balloon launch, the Cheneys, along with their families, made their way over to the Memorial and spent some looking over the names on the wall. The group was then joined by 92 year-old Julian Scott, another World War II Navy veteran. He and Mr. Cheney had never met before, yet they soon found they had a lot in common and shared a number of stories and memories.
Watching Mr. Cheney and Mr. Scott and their families, it was obvious that the Veterans’ Memorial has become far more than a monument to the men and women who have served in the military. It is a special place that sparks memories, provokes thought and most importantly, brings people together.
The balloon launch will have the same type of impact. Tied to each balloon was a tag with a veteran’s name on it and a request to post the location where it was found on the “Snellville Veterans Memorial” Facebook page. Some of the first postings were for balloons found in Loganville, Monroe, Social Circle and Athens, GA, Edgefield, and McCormick, SC. As cards are found, they will undoubtedly lead to conversations between the people who found them, and the families of the veterans whose names appear on them.
And some time in the future, finders and families will come together at the Memorial to celebrate the veterans and share their stories. And each time they do, the brick, mortar and stone that is the Snellville Veterans’ Memorial will breathe new life into the legacy of the men and women who have protected this nation, and allowed it to remain the land of the free and the home of the brave.