GREEN COVE SPRINGS – Memorial and Veterans Days are special to our country and are often marked by celebrations of those who have worn the uniform of military service. The City of Green Cove …
GREEN COVE SPRINGS – Memorial and Veterans Days are special to our country and are often marked by celebrations of those who have worn the uniform of military service. The City of Green Cove Springs is no different.
Just about everything has been affected this year by the COVID-19 pandemic, including Green Cove Springs’ Memorial and Veterans day celebrations.
Typically, veterans of the military services are honored by the city for both holidays. Since large gatherings have largely been forgone for the sake of safety, a different approach was taken.
Green Cove Springs has been celebrating veterans for a little over 20 years. This year, the celebration will be virtual.
“I knew I wanted to do something since normally we do the recognition ceremony during Memorial Day,” said Kimberly Thomas. “because so many people do a Veterans Day program. So, when that got canceled – well – we’ll do a Veteran’s Day program. Well, that got canceled, my heart was breaking. You know the veterans, that’s a big, big, important part to us, so I got with Tiffanie [Reynolds, city of Green Cove Springs Communication Coordinator], and said we’ve got to brainstorm, what can we do?”
The answer? The Virtual Veterans Celebration.
They decided between until early November, veterans could register to come to the city council chambers and tell their stories. The veterans could tell Reynolds what branch of service they had served, what wars or assignments they had been in, and anything else they wanted to share. Reynolds videotaped and recorded the interviews and then edit them all into one video, which will be streamed on the city Facebook page for Veterans Day.
One such veteran was Frank Haggard. Haggard served in the U.S. Navy and was deployed to Vietnam from 1967-1968. Naval service is a tradition in the Haggard family.
“We’re pretty much [a Navy family]. I mean, my dad and uncles and brothers, myself, my sons and brothers-in-law, my cousins are all Navy,” he said.
Haggard enlisted at the age of 17 after one of his uncles recommended military service and took him to the Navy recruiter office. He believes that every boy should serve at least two years; “Not just for patriotism, but for the discipline,” he said. Haggard remembers things like going through initiation rituals aboard the ship when crossing from the northern to the southern hemisphere. He served only two-and-half years. On his return from Vietnam, he was diagnosed with tuberculosis and was discharged. He spent the rest of his working years as a carpenter and house builder.
Another veteran who took part is (Ret.) U.S. Air Force Sgt. Gerald Knight. Knight is a Jacksonville native who enlisted in the Air Force in 1967. During his time in service, he was a radar repairman. He finished basic training at Lackland, AFB in San Antonio, Texas. In 1969, he received orders to Vietnam. He arrived in Pleiku, Vietnam, in the middle of a rocket attack.
“About the time the plane touched down, the rockets started falling again,” said Knight. “I looked all around trying to figure out where to go, and I picked out a GI with the dirtiest uniform I could find and followed him. I figured he knew where to go.”
Knight completed his Vietnam tour safely and returned to the United States. He was exposed to agent orange while deployed, which led to many health issues since. Once his time in uniform was completed, he briefly worked for defense contractors before joining Jacksonville Electric Authority for the next 31½ years as an instrument and controls technician.
Thomas hopes that as Veterans Day comes closer, more veterans will sign up for interviews. Those interested can reach out to Kimberly Thomas at the city of Green Cove Springs to schedule a time to do their interview. Reynolds has done about 10 of the interviews so far. Even though this year, the recognition is virtual, it is still happening, giving those veterans the appreciation, they deserve.