Walthourville Mayor Daisy Pray said her father, John Shaw, was 57 years old when she was born, the youngest of 10 children. He died while she was young, but she remembers him fondly.
She proudly tells how he served in World War I. In fact, military service has been a family tradition for nearly 100 years.
“I have a long history of family serving in the military,” Pray said. “My father was in the First World War… I had a first cousin who was killed in the Second World War. His body was never returned…
“My husband (Staff Sgt. Nathaniel Pray) is retired from the Army. My son (Maj. Derrick Pray) is still on active duty in the Army. My daughter (Senior Master Sgt. LaShonda Pray Brownlee) is still on active duty in the Air Force. My son-in-law is retired military. My sister’s daughter is retired military.”
She said her father never talked about his war, only that times were hard when he came home in 1919. There was very little to eat, and her father and mother, Lucille, were preoccupied with getting food for their growing family.
“We really never got any details from him about the war,” she said. “I don’t know if it was because of what happened over there. He didn’t want to go back; he just wanted to move forward.
“He still supported the military though, even joked that ‘my daughter would one day marry an officer.’ She didn’t, but my granddaughter did.”
Pray said relatives also served in Korea and Vietnam. She has supported the military as a daughter, spouse, mother, sister, cousin, aunt and niece. She also served the military in a more direct role as a Department of Defense employee with the Judge Advocate General’s office.
The two-term mayor said it doesn’t matter which branch of service, all that matters is a veteran served the country. Noting that nearly three-quarters of Liberty County residents are veterans or the family to veterans, Pray sees this community as one big military family.
“(This community) is committed to our soldiers and their families,” she said. “We support the military, and the military supports us… We see young soldiers in wheelchairs with legs missing. We witness first-hand (the horrors of war) whereas someone outside Liberty County might not see this…
“My son was so young the first time he went to Iraq. He called home and told us he slept with his rifle, and I thought I was going to have a heart attack. My son had gone from our home to harms’ way overnight. It was hard on the whole family.”
Being surrounded by military families helps, Pray said. Their husbands, wives, sons and daughters were “over there” too. That common bond and their prayers for each other are what make this community so strong, she said. She emphasized when tragedy hits a home, it hits the whole community.
“There are no words you can say,” she said, looking off in the distance. “You just hold their hand and tell them, ‘I’m here for you.’ Words can’t express the pain when you lose a loved one due to war.”
Pray was first elected mayor in 2008 and plans to seek a third term this year.
In addition to her passionate support for the military, she serves the greater community as a member of the Kirk Healing Center for the Homeless’ Board of Directors and the Hinesville-Liberty County Homeless Coalition. She also serves as president of the Liberty-Long Employer Committee.