Despite overcast skies, high winds and low temperatures, a few hundred local residents and visitors gathered at Bryant Commons on Saturday for the second annual Veterans Salute.
City Councilman David Anderson, chairman of the Hinesville Military Affairs Committee, which sponsored the event, said they planned for a much bigger event this year. HMAC member Melinda Schneider defined bigger. There were 41 vendors, including eight food sellers and 32 vendors for arts and crafts, products, information and services, she said. HMAC member Karen Bell ensured there also was plenty of entertainment, including a set from the 3rdInfantry Division Band.
“Saturday was OK, just cold,” Anderson said. “We had a good silent auction. After all was said and done, we raised over $5,000.”
Prior to the official kickoff for the event, HMAC members set up their own booth, the beer and wine tent and the silent auction. They also worked with the Hinesville Police Department and Youth ChalleNGe cadets in directing traffic and facilitating parking, ensuring there was ample parking for disabled attendees and VIPs.
Vendors and veterans’ service organizations that didn’t set up the night before put up tables and tents, despite the wind’s attempts to carry away some of the structures. Those who didn’t have tent tie-down or stakes operated under open skies and the constant threat of rain.
HMAC member George Holtzman said the weather prevented the planned cornhole tournament and the setup of inflatables structures for kids, which also hurt attendance.
“We could not control the bad weather, which had to have affected our attendance,” Holtzman said. “We had lots of vendors and entertainment. We (also) had a good 50/50 event. … We will have a third Veterans Salute on Nov. 7 next year, (and) we will have a car show in conjunction with the Small World Festival on March 7, 2015.”
Shortly after 11 a.m., Anderson led a group onto the stage for the opening ceremony. Those in the limelight included Hinesville Mayor Jim Thomas and his wife, Claudia; 3rdID Commander Maj. Gen. Mike Murray and his wife, Jane; 3rdID Command Sgt. Maj. Christopher Gilpin; Holtzman and his wife, Babs; Bell; and First United Methodist Church Pastor the Rev. Dale Thornton. Liberty County Board of Commissioners Chairman Donald Lovette arrived later.
The event kicked off with the 3rdID Color Guard marching in front of the stage. As the 3rdID Band played the national anthem, veterans on the stage and on the field paid honor to their flag and country.
“Good morning. I hope you’re enjoying this Georgia weather,” Thomas told the small crowd gathered on the amphitheater hillside. “Just wait a few hours, it’ll change. We want to welcome today our veterans and their families. We are appreciative of you, and we want to show that this community does care about you.”
Holtzman, who is subcommittee chairman for HMAC’s Veterans Memorial Walk, also welcomed everyone, explaining the event was to raise money for a veterans’ memorial.
“We’re hoping next year at this time the Veterans Memorial (Walk) will be built at this site,” he said. “We have some bold goals in front of us. Today’s event will help us reach those goals. We thank you all for being here today and being part of this celebration.”
He said last year’s Veterans Salute raised $6,000, and then listed the large donations that have been given so far to the memorial, including a $10,000 check he and his wife supplied last year for one of the concrete benches at the memorial. He explained the memorial’s design includes benches for each branch of the service. So far, large donations have been given only for benches for the Army display.
Babs Holtzman then stepped forward and gave another $10,000 donation, this one in memory of her father, Navy Chief Quartermaster William Troutman. Members of the International Telephone Pioneers Association also came forward with their second $5,000 donation. They gave $5,000 last year with a promise to donate a total of $10,000.
Murray, who will lead a group of Marne Division soldiers deploying to Afghanistan in the coming weeks, and Gilpin thanked the community for the support it gives to active-duty soldiers and their families as well veterans and their families.