Armed Forces Day, Memorial Day and Alan

Published 11:40 am Thursday, June 4, 2020

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By Garland O. Goodwin

Remember When column


I have missed the observance of two Days very important to me as a veteran: Armed Forces Day and Memorial Day. Armed Forces Day (3rd Saturday in May) is apparently observed only on military and naval installations, but Memorial Day is celebrated here in Polk County each year by the Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legion at Polk Memorial Gardens.

I have enjoyed many an air show at various Air Force and Navy air bases that I was either stationed on, or lived near, over the years. I watched the Thunderbirds grow from the original Acrojet P-80s to the F-16s they fly now. I also enjoyed the Blue Angels in mostly fighters provided by the famed Grumman Iron Works (pilot’s affectionate nickname for the Grumman company which gave them so many sturdy fighter planes to land on carriers) on Long Island. There were some Douglas A4s between the McDonnell Douglas Phantoms and now the F-18 Hornets.

There was some creative thinking in the Pentagon when THE VIRUS pandemic put a halt on just about everything. But the Air Force and Navy put up their teams simultaneously in “Operation America Strong” to salute all the health workers in our hospitals and first responders. The teams flew together over major cities and separately over smaller cities to cover the entire nation in about a month.

Jerry Frost sent me some photos he made when they flew over Atlanta. From his viewpoint the teams appeared to be in the same formation, but in fact they observed more than “social distancing” between their formations for safety. There are several good videos of the teams in flight, with close-ups of the pilots in their cockpits, keeping a watchful eye on their fellow pilots only inches away in their famous diamonds.

This afforded a great way to see both teams without having to drive and park in the huge crowds they usually draw for their shows. In fact, like football, the TV and Internet have brought them closer to us that we could ever get in the real world!

It turns out that I did not miss the Memorial Day observation here in Polk Memorial Gardens after all. Wreaths were placed, the Honor Guard fired the requisite volleys, “Taps” was played and the flag was run back up to top of the pole.

Then we adjourned to the Veterans Plaza for dedication of the new Korean War Memorial. The white gravel there is not conducive to visits by wheel chairs, so some paving will be required.

Lost another great friend this month: Alan Leonard. The Leonard’s were already a presence here when I was a little boy; I rode past Nelson’s store in the Valley on the school bus. Edna contributed much to the Polk County Historical Association when I was its President. Mike was our waiter at the Lake Lanier Tea House and helped me sell out my shop tools when we started downsizing.

Alan and family came regularly to our Christmas parties. I had met son Will when I judged papers at the Tryon Middle school when it was at Harmon Field. Will was another audacious character: in preparing his paper on Houdini, he had called Houdini’s sister in New York and talked with her at some length.

Alan was a Civil War re-enactor who had both blue and gray uniforms. He took Will to Gettysburg, where Will sat on the grass at the commissary, playing Civil War tunes on his fiddle. His hat, placed on the ground, was soon filled with some $50. Will dined sumptuously that day!

USAF LtCol Leonard was part of a C-130 aircrew, our District Attorney and a historian, who once gave a great presentation on Polk County’s WWI vets represented by the Doughboy Monument near the courthouse.

The last time I saw Alan, he had invited us to lunch at Side Street. He was relaxed and happy—a good way to remember him!