Patriots Day luncheon honors local veterans


By Sarrah Peters, News Editor

The Gadsden-Etowah Patriots Association held a luncheon at Gadsden’s Convention Hall to induct local veterans into its Hall of Honor on Wednesday, November 8.

The awards luncheon began with the Gadsden City High School’s JROTC posting the colors, followed by the National Anthem, Pledge of Allegiance and an invocation.

Gadsden Mayor Sherman Guyton and Etowah County Commissioner Tim Choate welcomed everyone to the event. Glencoe Mayor and Patriots Association member Charles Gilchrist recognized past Hall of Honor inductees in attendance.

The Special Category was World War I with WWI veteran Ralph Cannon posthumously inducted. Cannon was recognized for the service he gave the community after he returned from war. He served as an auxiliary policeman during WWII, worked for the W.P.A and helped build the Forrest Cemetary Chapel. He also made and donated sheet metal awnings to churches and the less fortunate. He passed away in 1983.

Grover Hicks, a WWII veteran, was posthumously inducted into the Hall of Honor. He was drafted in 1943 and served in the 3704th Army Air Forces Base Unit. While he was serving, the president ordered all former Goodyear and Firestone employees to return to their home plants to build tires for equipment. Hicks returned home to work, but was later sent back to his unit. He was promoted to Sergeant and received the World War II Victory Medal, the American Service Medal and the Army Good Conduct Medal. Hicks also served the City of Glencoe. He coached Dixie Youth Little League, a member of the Glencoe Athletic Association and the Glencoe Band Boosters, a union representative at Goodyear and served on the Union Executive Board.

James E. Lee, was posthumously inducted into the Hall of Honor. He served in the U.S. Marine Corps in the 1960s. Lee’s community service for the City of Hokes Bluff was recognized. He was a founder of Learning Systems Unlimited, which provided school books and supplies to students who could not afford them, and Learning Systems Technologies, which helped teach how to use computers. He also was a founder of CybrTyme, which taught veterans and students computer skills and repair. Lee served as a coach for the Hokes Bluff Drug Store Little League baseball team and the Dixie League All-Star team.

Fred Sington Jr., was previously inducted into the Hall of Honor during a Gadsden City Council meeting on October 17, but was still recognized during the luncheon. He served in the Navy Reserve from 1953-1963. Sington has worked as a labor attorney, at a life insurance company, as assistant to the Gadsden mayor, as director of the Northeast Alabama Regional Airport, as an instructor at GSCC and JSU, as Gadsden City High sportscaster and more. He also ran Fred Sington Sporting Goods. Sington has served in many organizations and boards, including the Alabama Retail Association, Alabama Aviation Council, the Boys Club, the Gadsden Downtown Action Council, the Gadsden Cultural Arts Board, the Gadsden Education Foundation Board, Big Brothers Big Sisters and many more.

Billy J. Harris was inducted into the Hall of Honor. He is a U.S. Army Vietnam veteran who received the National Defense Service Medal, the Vietnam Service Medal, the Vietnam Campaign Medal the Air Medal and the Combat Infantryman Badge. Harris was elected to the Gadsden City Council from 2010-2014. He also serves in many local organizations and boards, including NAACP, the Family Success Center, the Gadsden-Etowah Patriots Association, the Kiwanis Club, Big Brothers Big Sisters and more.

Dr. Danny R. Sparks was inducted into the Hall of Honor. He served in the U.S. Air Force from 1974-1988. Since 1988, Sparks has worked as an orthopedic surgeon in Etowah County and provided care for many veterans and service members after an injury or accident.

Michael A. Grieco was inducted into the Hall of Honor. He is a Vietnam veteran who served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1969-1972. Grieco received the National Defense Service Medal, the Vietnam Service Medal with three stars, the Vietnam Campaign Medal, the Combat Action Ribbon, The Navy Commendation Medal with Valor, the Rifle Expert Badge, the Pistol Expert Badge and a Certificate of Appreciation from President Nixon. Grieco also serves the community through his work with Habitat for Humanity, the Knights of Columbus and the Catholic Center of Concern.

Ronnie L. Watkins, although not present, will be inducted into the Hall of Honor at a later date and was recognized at the luncheon. Watkins is the owner of Ronnie Watkins Ford, which he opened in 1998. He has provided automobiles for many programs and charitable organizations throughout Etowah County. Watkins has also helped form technical school programs. He currently serves on boards and organizations, such as Salvation Army, United Way and Gadsden/Etowah Tourism. Watkins was a major donor to the Patriots Association’s campaign to bring the Traveling Vietnam Wall to Gadsden, which was an outstanding success.

Walter Jack Riley was inducted into the Hall of Honor. He served in the U.S. Marine Corps during the Vietnam War and received a Purple Heart, the National Defense Service Medal, the Vietnam Service Medal, the Vietnam Campaign Medal and the Rifle Sharpshooter Badge. Riley has served his community in many ways, including coaching for many different soccer programs and umpiring youth baseball. He is a Red Cross CPR trainer and a Boy Scout Troop leader. Riley has also served with Relay for Life, Meals-on-Wheels and many veteran and service member organizations.

After the inductees were honored, guest speaker Rick Vaughan spoke to the crowd about the Veterans Affairs failure to treat soldiers who suffer from PTSD effectively. Vaughan shared that PTSD has affected him and many people he has known. He said that when the VA treats PTSD with pills that don’t help, many turn to alcohol abuse. Eventually, when that does not work many unfortunately turn to suicide. Vaughan advocated for more help for veterans facing these issues today.

John Graham gave closing remarks and awarded Vaughan with a special recognition award.The event ended with  moment of silence for fallen soldiers and veterans, a benediction and a rendition of “Amazing Grace” on the bagpipes preformed by Wayne Hammond.

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