The city of Bullard was filled with patriotic pride and American freedom, as members of the East Texas community came out by the thousands and paid tribute to true American heroes at the 2017 East Texas Salute event, held Saturday, May 13, on the grounds of the Brook Hill Upper School and the American Freedom Museum.
The event this year was to celebrate and honor veterans of World War II and the Korean War for their courage and sacrifice while serving and protecting their country.
“The East Texas Salute event was created to provide the opportunity for the citizens and students of East Texas to show their appreciation for the sacrifices of our military men and women, to acknowledge their courage, and to show them the honor and support they have earned,” said Jan Hommel, director of the American Freedom Museum. “This year’s event was an expression of our heartfelt gratitude to our aging veterans, to the men and women who fought and won the Second World War and to those who fought in Korea to preserve that victory. These men and women fought in a different time allowing us the freedoms that our current military are fighting to preserve.”
According to statistics read by Hommel at the event, over 16 million men and women served in the United States armed forces during World War II, with over 400,000 casualties and over 700,00 wounded in battle. In the Korean War, over 5.7 million men and women fought to defend America, with over 60,000 deaths and over 100,000 wounded.
“It’s very humbling for me to be in the presence of so many great American men and women who served during World War II and the Korean War,” said Don Allen, Master of Ceremonies at the event, also a retired Army Special Forces Lieutenant Colonel. “It’s a great event. We had several World War II and Korean War veterans in attendance today. We’ve got to continue to have events like this because we need to remind the next generation why we have freedoms and liberties like we do today. This is a great community event with many community volunteers and sponsors who have made this event possible.”
With clear blue skies and warm temperatures, East Texans were on hand to pay tribute to the veterans at the event, which began with a parade ride from Tyler to Bullard on FM 2493 with the Patriot Guard Riders, as well as several World War II and Korean War veterans riding in military vehicles, as a PT-17 World War II aircraft flew overhead.
After the parade, attendees gathered for the veteran’s ceremony, which featured two keynote speakers.
The first speaker to speak at the 2017 East Texas Salute event was Charles Varner of Grandview, a well-known impersonator of World War II General George S. Patton. Dressed in military fatigues, Varner, as Patton, addressed veterans and guests in classic Patton fashion.
In his address, Varner shared several of Patton’s thoughts and speeches from World War II, including his thoughts on dying for one’s country.
“I want you to remember that no soldier ever won a war by dying for his country,” said Varner, as Patton. “He won it by making the other poor dumb soldier die for his country… Americans love a winner and will not tolerate a loser. Americans play to win every time. Americans have never lost and will never lose a war because the very thought of losing is hateful to Americans… This is war, and not tiddlywinks. ”
George Patton “Pat” Waters, the grandson of General Patton, served as the second keynote speaker at the 2017 East Texas Salute. Waters’ mother, Beatrice Patton Waters was the first-born child of General and Mrs. George S. Patton. He is a veteran, having served in the US Reserves, as well as an officer aboard the USS Braine and an ASW instructor at the Naval Air Station in Glynco. Waters is a board member emeritus of the Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation.
“It’s an honor to be at this event,” said Waters. “I’m privileged to represent the Patton family, for whom many of these people served. Just to see their faces and shake their hands and hear their stories about what they did to help keep our country free is a great experience. We better hurry up and honor these veterans because we’re never going to get this quality of people ever again; they were 100 percent committed to die for their country and not try to find ways to get out of it. They went forward without question and fought to eliminate a horrible fascist regime from the face of the earth. I love being able to interact with veterans and thank them for their service.”
US Navy Seaman Second Class Al “Pop” Stevens, a resident of Tyler, celebrated his 91st birthday at the event, Stevens, who entered into service during World War II at the age of 17, described the 2017 East Texas Salute as a great gathering of his American veteran brothers.
“They really put have put on a show here today,” said Stevens. “They found out it was my birthday, and they told me they were going to put me on a half track with a 50-caliber machine gun, which was a great birthday present. There were a few World War II veterans that I saw and I went around to them and talked to them. There’s only two percent of us that fought in World War II around now, and about 762 of us died every week, mainly because of old age. It’d rather be able to celebrate my veteran brothers than have a regular old birthday party.”
The Colors were presented at the ceremony by Alert Academy in Big Sandy, while representatives of the Naval Enlisted Reserve in Oklahoma unfurled a 76X50 foot American flag, assisted by members of the Patriot Guard Riders. An invocation at the event was given by Green Acres Baptist Church Pastor David Dykes.
Also at the event, a proclamation by Bullard Mayor Pam Frederick was read by Bullard Police Department Officer Ryan Brown.
The East Texas Salute 2017 event featured several historical, patriotic, educational, and fun events for the public, both young and old, including free admission to the American Freedom Museum, the American Veterans Traveling Tribute Traveling Vietnam Wall, the Texas Veterans Classic Car Show, performances by several musical groups, a World War II military aircraft flyover, and more.
At the Texas Veterans Classic Car Show, organizer Mike Balfay said the event attracted over 160 pre-1973 vehicles, as well as 32 military vehicles.
Awards presented at the 2017 East Texas Salute Classic Car Show included Kenny Conner’s 1934 Ford, winning Best Car for the second consecutive year; Rockie Zelsky’s 1940 Ford pickup, winning Best Truck; Vance Klien’s 1941 Ford Willys, winning Best Engine; Mike Danielson’s 1955 Chevy Convertible, winning Best Paint and Best of Show; and Justin Cavitt’s 1917 Model T, winning People’s Choice.
Brook Hill founder Steve Dement summed up the event as a event that humbles him and The Brook Hill School to host.
“This was a very humbling experience to see all of these great American heroes come out today,” said Dement. “We hope this event will serve as a small way to say thank you to these veterans for their sacrifice. The Bullard and Brook Hill communities always show off their patriotism, and we’re glad to have played a part in hosting this great event.”