BY ANDREAS BUTLER
Each Veterans Day, the community gathers at the picnic area at Emory L. Bennett State Veterans Nursery Home in Daytona Beach to celebrate residents who served their country.
It’s a treat for veterans who live at the facility like retired Marine Staff Sergeant Eli Graham, one of last living Montford Point Marines and a Congressional Medal of Honor recipient.
“It’s a great day and event for us because we all get together and have a good time,” said Graham, 92.
‘Born to be a Marine’
Montford Point (now Camp Johnson) in North Carolina is where Blacks who integrated the Marine Corps trained.
Nov. 11, Veterans Day, is special to Graham because his birthday is Nov. 10, the same day the first Marines Corps was established.
“I was born on Nov. 10, 1925 which is the same day of the USMC birthday in 1775. It makes me feel good and like I was born to be a Marine. I served in the 7th Ammunition Company, 1st Marine Division. Our outfit helped drop the bomb that ended the war,” Graham told the Daytona Times.
‘All bleed red,white and blue’
Retired Marine Corps Warrant Officer Pierre Louis gave the keynote address.
He also is president of the Military Officers Association of America Halifax Area Chapter and serves on the executive board of the Volusia County Veterans Memorial Plaza, Inc.
“I am grateful to be here. I am in awe when I look at you and hear your stories. I think about being a career of being a Marine. When I think about what it takes to make this country, America what it is and its best. It takes a collective group of veterans working together,” said Louis, who also is the executive director of the Daytona Beach Housing Development Corporation.
“We tease each other for the branch of service we’re in, but at the end of the day we all bleed red, white and blue. We are veterans, but we are one word, which is Americans. Thank you for your service.”
They get it done
The importance of service was emphasized during his speech.
“A life of service is a different calling. Veterans are people who serve. I work with children often. I was once asked by a child, ‘What is a Marine? What is a veteran?’ I summed it up like this: A veteran is a person that will do service at a time no one else will,” Louis recalled.
He thanked veterans for getting the job done.
Louis stated, “When you ask a veteran to do something, the response you will get is consider it done. They will get the job done.
“I am always impressed with the stories veterans have to tell. You veterans are what people make movies of. Veterans are united. When you talk to veterans, they never say, ‘I did this or I did that.’ They say. ‘We did this.’
Price of freedom
Veterans were also thanked for paying the price of freedom.
“You veterans are the face of freedom. Freedom is not free. Freedom is paid with a small price. Who paid that price? Veterans paid that price. They pay it by their love of country.”
Home for disabled
Emory L. Bennett Veterans Nursing Home opened in 1993 and has a capacity of 120 beds. Usually the place is full, but on Veterans Day it housed 112 disabled veterans.
The facility is one of seven nursing homes run under the Florida Department of Veterans Affairs.
It has been hosting the Veterans Day ceremony for the past 20 years.
“We do this ceremony each year because we owe veterans a lot,” noted E. Gray Kilpatrick, administrator of the nursing home.
“It is because of veterans that we have freedom of religion, not the preacher. It’s because of veterans that we have freedom of press and speech, not the reporter. We have freedom of assembly because of veterans, not because of the protestor. We have the right to vote because of veterans, not the politicians,” he added.
Some of the local veterans’ organizations that participated in the service included the Veteran’s Council of Volusia County; Veterans of Foreign Wars Post #1590 and #3461, Disabled American Veterans Post #84, American Legion Post #380 and 120, and the Halifax Area Chapter of the Military Officers Association of America.
The Veterans of Foreign Wars Post #1590 served as the ceremony’s honor guard.
Former Commander Roger Lee Tiffany of the Veteran’s Council of Volusia County, served as the master of ceremony. He also is chaplain of of Disabled American Veterans Post #84.
The annual event is the collaboration between the nursing home and local veteran organizations.
“We are just acknowledging all veterans, including those alive and those who have passed as well as supporting them,” said Vicky Chandler, activities director at the Emory Bennett State Veterans Nursing Home.