LaGRANGE — Roger Smith is a man of few words.
When handed the 2015 Veteran of the Year award during Wednesday’s Veterans Day observance downtown, Smith, a Navy vet, simply said thank you and paid tribute to the scores of people who made the ceremony possible.
“It takes a lot of people to do this,” he told the gathering of prior service members and their supporters. “There’s a lot of veterans who put a lot into this every year.”
Mike Hudson, chairman of the area Veterans Council, went to shake Smith’s hand as he passed him a commemorative plaque. Instead, Smith raised his arm smartly and drew a salute. Hudson crisply returned the gesture before the two eventually clasped palms and smiled, the crowd applauding.
Hudson praised Smith for his “tireless, year-round” service to other veterans and the community. Smith serves as treasurer and volunteers with several local veterans’ organizations, including the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the Disabled American Veterans.
More than 100 people attended the annual ceremony. Retired Superior Court Judge Allen Keeble was this year’s keynote speaker.
Keeble, an Air Force veteran and locally renowned orator, drew on his experience as an attorney and judge to speak of the “sacred honor” the Founding Fathers pledged during the American Revolution.
“In support of this declaration, we pledge our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor,” Keeble said, quoting the latter lines of the Declaration of Independence.
He paused, noting the pledge the founders made to give their lives, then expressed his gratitude to the men and women who continue to uphold that pledge to this day.
“Their actions have enabled us to live in the greatest country in the world — and if I might say, the greatest little city in that country,” he said.
Although the ceremony celebrates the service of all veterans, each year the crowd takes a somber moment just before the laying of a wreath to read aloud the names of local vets who died in the year prior. Each name is punctuated by the ringing of a bell.
The ceremony closed, as it does each year, with the playing of taps — a melody even familiar to those who have never served. Emory Drinkard, the 2014 Veteran of the Year, bugled the solemn tune as many in the crowd stood at attention, their hands rendering a salute.
As the service concluded and the crowd disbanded, attendee Patricia Bailey of LaGrange approached Smith to congratulate him on being named the 2015 Veteran of the Year. She shook his hand and asked if he’d seen the butterfly.
Puzzled, Smith asked what she was talking about.
“There was a butterfly,” she said. “Right before they called you up, it flew around you and landed right on your head. It was really special.”
Smith smiled before saying he had to get going. He was on his way to Newnan to collect donations for veterans.
“They don’t have a VFW up there,” he said. “So someone’s got to do it.”
Tyler H. Jones is a reporter at LaGrange Daily News. He may be reached at 706-884-7311, ext. 2155.