In a cross-county trip Friday, American Legion National Vice Commander Pamela Harris was treated to an insight into Franklin County’s rich military history.
Flanked by an entourage of other national, state and regional leaders, Harris began her morning with a visit to American Legion Post 82 in Lanark Village, Harris was accompanied by National Executive Committee Member Jim Ramos, National Alternate Executive Committee Member Jerry Brandt, Department of Florida Commander Eunice Butts, Department of Florida 3rd Vice Commander Jessica More, Western Area Commander Sonny Decker, 2nd District Commander Roger Hewitt and 2nd District Chaplain Barry Roberts.
“We were honored by a spectacular visit from the national vice commander and several other national, state and regional VIPs,” said Rachel Murphy, commander of Post 82. “We took this opportunity to honor Post 82 World War II Navy veteran Bob Dietz.”
Dietz was presented with a Quilt of Valor by Nancy Gage, a snowbird from Kansas City, Missouri, who created it along with members of the Carrabelle Beach RV Snowbird Quilters.
Dietz received a standing ovation as he hugged family and Legion members, with the quilt draped over his shoulders. Harris recognized him by presenting him a ‘Challenge Coin’ from National American Legion Commander Jim Troiola, who was unable to make the tour due to illness.
Afterwards members and guests filled the Post’s assembly room and enjoyed a lunch from Taste of Korea.
Gage said she and her fellow quilters, who winter here from as far away as Illiinois, Iowa, and Minnesota, plan to give out five more Quilts of Valor this weekend, to younger veterans, four from Carrabelle and one from Lanark Village.
Next on Harris’ agenda was a visit to the Camp Gordon Johnston World War II Museum, which this month features a special exhibit on the African American soldiers of the war, though Feb. 25.
In the afternoon, Al Mirabella, commander of Willoughby Marks American Legion Post 106 in Apalachicola, arranged for Harris to visit the Three Servicemen Statue Detail in Veterans Plaza in Apalachicola.
After brief remarks by Harris at the foot of the statue, she and the audience of Legionnaires heard from Jimmy Mosconis, who gave a history of The Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington and how its founder, Jan Scruggs, who was in Mosconis’ unit during the war, had worked to get a statue, fashioned from the Three Servicemen Statue’s original mold, placed in Apalachicola.
Mosconis noted that on a trip to Vietnam just prior to the statue detail being erected, he traveled to Vietnam and brought back mementoes, which he placed in the concrete foundation under the Georgian marble slab that supports the statue.
Danny Itzkovitz, who runs Tamara’s Cafe Catering, offered a table of desserts following the ceremony and photos.
Reflecting on her visit, Harris said that as a second-generation Legionnaire, the Quilt of Valor presentation in Lanark had moved her. “To see that World War II veteran, it brought back memories of my father,” she said.
Harris said she was impressed by the Camp Gordon Johnston museum, and its special exhibit on African American soldiers. A veteran of the Persian Gulf War, she was the first African-American and the first female to lead the North Carolina Department of the American Legion, before ascending to her national post.
“I was just amazed at everything I saw there at the museum, the women, the old supplies,” she said. “I could not believe how rich and powerful that (Camp Gordon Johnston) was. That’s a great place there.”
Harris said Mosconis’ remarks about having had Joe Galloway speak at the Three Servicemen Statue Detail had prompted her to recall her friendship with the American newspaper correspondent and columnist.
“Today has been very special to me, because it has hit on all the important parts of my life,” she said.
Harris stressed the role the Legion plays, with its auxiliary and its outreach to families, in communities throughout the country.
“It’s a family,” she said. This year’s theme is ‘Be The One,” and can’t think of anything better than to help with suicides (of veterans). We want to stop that, we want to be the ones that stopped it, and be the ones to celebrate those people who paved the way for us.”