PRICEVILLE — Duane Ridenhour is a member of the Patriot Guard Riders.
But Sunday afternoon, the Union Grove man parked his motorcycle and stood on Faye Street with a throng of others, waiting for Priceville’s first Veterans Day parade to make the turn into a field toward the Morgan County Veterans Memorial.
“My wife’s riding, and I’m watching her because she has a new bike,” the Vietnam veteran said. “Also, this is one of the most joyous type events we do, and I want to take it all in. We do so many funerals, and they can be emotional. While we still mourn those memorialized at the park, this is more of a celebration, where you’ll see patriotism coming alive, I think now more than ever.”
As the brisk wind whipped American flags at the park and sent some to their cars for jackets, Ridenhour’s observation became a theme a short time later during dedication of the memorial, when more than 500 people gathered in and around the facility’s pavilion.
From Tammy Lee’s renditions of the national anthem and “God Bless America” to taps by Priceville resident Ariel Allen, patriotism rang.
Even before he took the podium, guest speaker Col. R. Brian Williams, a Decatur native, spoke about the meaning of the day.
“It humbles me to come home and see the patriotism of Alabama,” he said. “In any other place, this would just be inconceivable. We do take it for granted here.”
Williams, a 1984 graduate of Decatur High, is director of the Joint Action Control Office, National Guard Bureau in the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. He led American, coalition and Afghan soldiers into battle in Afghanistan.
“Peace, though fragile as fine china, is often wrought from hands once strong enough to toil at the anvil of war,” he said. “We are here to celebrate the strength, courage and dedication of our veterans who not only wield the hammer of conflict but also shape the world for lasting peace.”
The memorial honors 245 Morgan Countians killed in action from World War I to the present, their names engraved in black Indian marble at five separate stations, each representing a branch of the military.
State, local and county officials gathered for the dedication.
State Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, cited the movie “Saving Private Ryan.”
“If you’ll recall, as Capt. John Miller lay mortally wounded, Pvt. James Ryan, the man Miller’s outfit went to save and bring home because he had already lost three brothers in World War II, asked what he could do. Miller replied, ‘Earn this.’ I hope each soldier inscribed back there on that granite cries out the same quote to each and every one of us.”
Lesley “Boots” Mashburn, 91, a World War II veteran, led the Pledge of Allegiance.
Two of his Army band of brothers sat in the audience.
George Mills, 91, a former German prisoner of war, said he was making his first visit to the memorial “although I get my hair cut across the street and watched it develop. It’s beautiful, an asset to Morgan County.”
Wallace Willingham, 87, echoed Mills’ sentiment.
Other veterans from the Air Force, Marines, Navy and Coast Guard watched the proceedings.
Priceville Mayor Melvin Duran, who dedicated the memorial, also honored his father, holding up his photo, noting, he “stormed the beaches at Normandy.”
Duran spoke about the birth of the memorial park, which adjoins the town’s Veterans Park.
“Councilman Tommy Perry wanted to do something in our park for veterans,” Duran said. “Several months passed before we were approached by Sen. Orr and Bob Stricklin of the American Legion. Before long, we began planning the funding for the memorial park.”
Priceville donated the property and put in $25,000 in seed money. The town and the Combined Patriotic Organizations of Morgan County are co-sponsors of the park.
“The main thing is I’m so proud the veterans turned out today because this is for them and their families,” Duran said. “It’s located in Priceville, but it’s something we have built for all of Morgan County. We couldn’t have done it without the support of everyone.”
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