By Cara Zarecor
The Kenton White Squirrel Festival held its yearly Veterans Program on the evening of July 2 in the Kenton City Gym. Normally, local veterans are invited to a breakfast in the Kenton Youth Center, but this year the White Squirrel Committee elected to hold the event at night and include dinner for the veterans and their immediate families, which was graciously provided and served by members of Kenton Church of God and New Concord Baptist Church.
Kenton Mayor Danny Jowers first took the podium to welcome all in attendance. Jowers asked for a show of hands among those present who had served in previous wars/conflicts. Approximately 20 veterans raised their hands who cumulatively represented service in WWII, the Korean Conflict, the Vietnam War, the Cold War Conflict and the Gulf War.
Jowers said, “We should honor those who are here and those who are not. Always thank a veteran, because we wouldn’t be here without them.”
Marjie Sanderson then took the stage to sing a beautiful a capella rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner” as everyone turned with hands on hearts to honor our nation’s flag that hangs above center court in the gym.
Next to speak was Tennessee’s 77th District State Representative Bill Sanderson. He commended the White Squirrel Festival Committee and Kenton citizens for being the only town of its size to host a festival of such magnitude in his district, proudly calling it “exceptional.”
Sanderson went on to relay a series of events where he was instrumental in raising funding for Tennessee’s program that provides property tax relief for disabled veterans after a low-funding scare in one of his counties. That program’s funding is now up to around $38 million in the yearly state budget.
Sanderson concluded his presentation by recognizing the newest addition to West Tennessee’s veterans’ cemeteries at Parker’s Crossroads. This cemetery is the sixth cemetery in West Tennessee that will serve veterans free of charge. Sanderson added that spouses of veterans may also be buried in these special cemeteries at a very low cost.
New Concord Baptist Church Pastor Rodney Gregg then shared his message before the group. Gregg, also a veteran, served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1981 to 1989. He quoted Romans 5:6, “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.” Gregg proclaimed that Jesus set an example that soldiers understood when He was willing to die to save others.
Marjie Sanderson then sang “God Bless America” and invited the audience to join her in the second verse. Before she sang, she recollected a 1992 visit to a Czechoslovakian concentration camp. She told the audience that the song was written in 1918 by Irving Berlin, an immigrant who was serving in a U.S. Army Camp in New York.
Dustin Hamlin, a Bible college student from Troy, then took the podium with a prayer message. In his message, he referenced Galatians 5:1, which, in part, reads, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.” It was the stories of veterans in Hamlin’s family and his own experience of having visited the Washington D.C. memorials that made the Bible verse strike such a chord in his understanding. Hamlin reminded everyone, “We say God Bless America, but America’s got to bless God first!” He concluded his portion of the program with a heart-felt prayer thanking God for all leaders and first responders, who have been called to serve.
After the traditional Lighting of the Candle and a moment of silence, Gibson County High School band student Logan Pack played “Taps” on his trumpet and Rep. Sanderson joined in with his trumpet in a mesmerizing echo-like composition of the tune.
Dinner was then served in a buffet-style line and the veterans and their families enjoyed a time of fellowship with one another.