Rector and Region Remember Those Who Served Our Nation
Despite an afternoon thundershower which washed-out the parade, the second annual Rector Vietnam Veterans Homecoming Celebration held Saturday, March 30, was a big success. Several hundred veterans, their families and supporters gathered in the Rector Community Center for the observance, which this year included special recognition for recipients of the Purple Heart.
This year's observance actually began Friday, as members of the Rector VFW visited Rector High School for a special assembly. Post Commander Jon Bradshaw, a decorated veteran of the Vietnam War, provided the students a brief history on the war and several other of the veterans shared their personal experiences.
Respectful and attentive, the students listened as the veterans shared the stories. Among them was Tom Diddle, who gained the student's attention by reminding them they would all have been near the age to register for the draft if they had been living at that time. They also heard from other area veterans of the Vietnam era, including Tom Huggins, George Bearden, Dennis Presson and Larry Pruett.
Due to the rain which forced cancellation of the annual parade, organizers moved the observance celebration on Saturday to the Rector Community Center. With the large crowd on hand, the ceremony opened with the playing of the National Anthem by the Rector High School Cougar band.
Afterward, the crowd was welcomed by organizer Joey Pruett and Rector Mayor Teresa Roofe with the invocation provided by Jacob Lynn, pastor of the First United Methodist Church of Rector. State Rep. Joe Jett, fresh from Little Rock and the current General Assembly, served as the master of ceremonies. Also in attendance for the second year in a row was Clay County Judge Mike Patterson.
The scheduled speaker was Everett Evans, commander of the Northeast Arkansas Chapter #709, Military Order of the Purple Heart. But, due to the changes he was unable to attend. In his place Mark Frank, the district veterans affairs officer for the Arkansas Department of Veterans Affairs, read the official proclamation for Vietnam Veterans Day as signed by Gov. Asa Hutchinson. Frank is the district officer for Clay, Craighead, Greene, Jackson, Lawrence, Poinsett, Randolph and Mississippi counties. Huggins serves as the Clay County officer.
Those in attendance also enjoyed several patriotic songs performed by Chrissy Jennings-Pazanowski.
Event supporter Danny Ford was then called-on to recognize the Purple Heart recipients, with eight men—including Bradshaw, honored. Also included were Mickey Hoggard, Bruce Christensen, Freddie “JC” Herren, Nethel Ed Rounds, Melvin Royer and Donald J. Johnson.
Later, all of the other veterans in attendance were recognized and thanked for their service.
The afternoon also included two special ceremonies, as both the “Missing Man Table” and the “Soldiers Cross” were replicated by veterans. Those attending were also reminded that the “Wall That Heals” a half-scale replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, will be visiting Paragould May 30, through June 2, at Harmon Park.
The celebration also included a fish dinner for all those in attendance, prepared by John 3:16 Ministries and arranged by Gregg Sain.
Organizer Joey Pruett noted the first event provided the local team with some valuable experience, making this year's observance a bit easier. “Despite the change due to the weather, thanks to our experience, it wasn't as difficult this year as it was last year,” he explained. “It's kind of like the Labor Day Picnic, we've got a lot of the same people involved. And once we give somebody a job they just run with it.”
Pruett applauded the efforts of the organizing committee and the work they did in preparation, offering.
“We have this committee, and Kim Romine is like my boss. She really heads this up, I get the credit, but she really heads this up,” he added. “And, we have Christa Hedrick, and one of the local veterans, Chuck Melvin Bridges, along with Steve Sigsby and Glenn Leach—we've got a great committee.”
Pruett also originally offered the idea for the observance, and had good reasons to do so.
“You know I had two brothers that were in the Vietnam War, and they always talked about how they never received the welcome home, and that's what gave me the idea.”
He also offered a word of thanks to everyone who attended, making the event possible.
“We're just so thankful that it is as big as it is and people are turning out for the Vietnam veterans, who really deserve this,” he concluded.