Monumental sacrifices

Published 12:00 am Monday, June 14, 2004

Many World War II veterans live by the words &uot;Let us not forget.&uot;

The rest of Butler County adopted this motto on Monday with the unveiling of the new World War II monument located next to Greenville City Hall.

A huge crowd gathered on the grounds of City Hall to help dedicate the monument.

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Greenville Lion Gene Hardin served as Master of Ceremonies and began the program by recognizing all the hard work that made the ceremony possible.

It was quite evident that Hardin, a veteran of the war himself, was very emotional about the monument.

&uot;It’s a project that the Greenville Lions Club started about three years ago,&uot; said Hardin. &uot;This morning you have come to see the fruition of the dream. It’s been a long project for people who deserve it.&uot;

Greenville Mayor Dexter McLendon said it was a proud day for the city to unveil the monument.

&uot;It is just an honor for the city to be a part of this,&uot; McLendon said. &uot;We’d like to thank the Lions Club and everyone that helped make this possible.&uot;

After the area veterans unveiled the monument Major W.W. &uot;Jack&uot; Williamson, who is retired from the U.S. Air Corps, responded on behalf of the veterans.

&uot;We want to thank the Lions Club for sponsoring this monument,&uot; said Williamson. &uot;We appreciate particularly you carving those 89 who made the extraordinary sacrifice. They made that sacrifice for our freedom and liberty.&uot;

Williamson said the generation that participated in the war referred to as &uot;the greatest generation&uot; by Tom Brokaw, were a special group of people.

Williamson said their upbringing prepared them for the great challenge they faced,

&uot;We lived by what we were taught in our homes and schools that we owed a duty to our land to defend our country and that is why we volunteered,&uot; said Williamson. &uot;We had that sense of liberty.&uot;

Although in law school at the University of Alabama, Williamson volunteered for service.

Williamson could relate to the suffering endured by many World War II veterans. Williamson was himself a prisoner of war. However, his situation was unique. Williamson was held by the Russians, who were our allies, as a spy.

&uot;I was on my last mission and got shot down over Linz,&uot; said Williamson. &uot;We got hit by fighters and I lost three engines and the fourth was damaged.&uot;

With two wounded men aboard, Williamson’s option of parachuting was taken away and he had to land the plane. Williamson found a pasture to land and after getting out of the plane was met by armed Russian soldiers.

&uot;They wanted me to sign over the plane and I told them it doesn’t belong to you,&uot; said Williamson. &uot;Then they put us under armed guard and wouldn’t let us let our families know that we were alive.&uot;

British allies finally rescued Williamson and his men.

&uot;Finally a British cruiser came in and said if they didn’t let the Americans go they wouldn’t let the Russians go,&uot; said Williamson. &uot;After that we went to Naples and found out the war was over. I was finally able to let my wife know that I was alive.&uot;

Guest speaker Rear Admiral Lewis W. Crenshaw Jr. followed Williamson at the podium.

Crenshaw, who grew up in Greenville before attending the United States Naval Academy, was very pleased to be back in his hometown.

&uot;It is great to be back,&uot; said Crenshaw. &uot;I don’t get a chance to get back here that often, but when I do it is really special.&uot;

Crenshaw said that while he was happy to be home he wanted everyone to remember those whom never made it back.

&uot;Today we are here to pay homage to those who couldn’t come home and didn’t come home,&uot; said Crenshaw. &uot;This is their day. This is for them. The names on this monument represent your friends, neighbors, siblings, parents and spouses.&uot;

Crenshaw said with the help of the monument their memories would last forever.

Some of the World War II veterans on hand were deeply touched by the monument.

&uot;It is very appropriate and very timely,&uot; said retired Air Force Col. J.F. &uot;Tut&uot; Frakes. &uot;It just shows how much the people of Butler County supported the veterans and continue to do so. They did a great job.&uot;

Lt. Col. Bobby Vinson, who served in the army during the great world war, was also pleased with the monument.

&uot;They did an outstanding job,&uot; said Vinson. &uot;Everything looks great.&uot;

The ceremonies were closed with Crenshaw being presented with a proclamation from the mayor and governor as well as the key to the city.

At the end of his speech Crenshaw quoted Calvin Coolidge as saying &uot;The nation which forgets its defenders will itself be forgotten.&uot;

The unveiling of the monument has proven that the people of Butler County will never forget.