Annual Veterans Day program honors local veterans

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U.S. Marine Corps veterans Earl Porters and Robert Turner pose for a photo at the Cullman County Veterans Day Celebration at Cullman Regional Airport Saturday, Nov. 5, 2022. (Sara Gladney for The Cullman Tribune)

VINEMONT, Ala. – The annual Cullman County Veterans Day Celebration returned to Cullman Regional Airport Saturday. It was a rainy day, which meant the cancelation of some planned WWII B-17 Bomber Flying Fortress and Vietnam UH-1 Iroquois (Huey) helicopter rides and a demonstration by Skydive Alabama, but that didn’t put a damper on attendance.  

Hosted by the Cullman Elks Lodge, the celebration featured a patriotic concert by Redstone Army Band, a free lunch for veterans and their spouses, military equipment displays from WWII to Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom, a P-51 Mustang/ Mustang car show, D-Day 1944 C-47 aircraft display, a Navy dive bomber display and more.  

The opening ceremony saw Sen. Garlan Gudger, R-Cullman, Cullman County Commission Chairman Jeff Clemons and Cullman Mayor Woody Jacobs thanking local veterans and their families on behalf of the community.   

“Let’s take a moment to acknowledge those families, also, of the service members and veterans who shoulder the weight of the war and the burdens and sacrifice back home,” Gudger said. “To all the mothers and fathers, spouses, children of our military men and women, thank you. Your love and support and resilience are the backbone of this nation and must never be forgotten.” 

He also recognized the Elks Lodge and the Cullman VFW for donating their time and resources to support local veterans. He noted recent local and state efforts to make stellate ganglion block (SGB) shots available to those suffering from PTSD. Gudger said vets suffering with PTSD previously had to spend around $1,250 for SGB treatment. Now, thanks to a state-funded pilot program, eligible veterans can be treated for free. 

Noted Clemons, “We have around 7,000 veterans that are living in Cullman County and that’s amazing to know that we have that many veterans here that have protected our democracy and freedom and our way of life.” 

“We’re blessed to live where we live,” said Jacobs. “I’m proud of this community – the standards, values that we have – but we only get to keep those because of our military guys.” 

Recognitions 

Organizer Gwen Parker from the Cullman Elks Lodge recognized several local veterans in attendance, including 102-year-old WWII veteran Julian Campbell, who served as a B-26 medium bomber pilot in the U.S. Army Airforce and flew 40 combat missions. He had the distinction of being the oldest pilot in attendance.  

Robert Turner was a U.S. Marine in Vietnam where he served in an Amtrac unit delivering Marines and ammunition to the battlefield and evacuating the wounded. He was twice wounded himself when his vehicle hit enemy mines. He received two Purple Hearts.  

Tom Barnes is a graduate of the United States Military Academy West Point and trained as a U.S. Ranger. He served as an artillery spotter in Vietnam. He was wounded when his chopper was downed by enemy fire and received a Purple Heart.  

Clarence Benefield served in the U.S. Air Force as a helicopter door gunner. He flew 126 combat air missions over South Vietnam. His unit performed Special Forces insertions, rescues and reconnaissance missions.  

Mitchell Ward served in U.S. Navy aboard the aircraft carrier America as it conducted strike operations in Vietnam. He stood beside the Douglas SBD Dauntless dive bomber and spoke about the life aboard a carrier during the war.  

Brian Monk served in the U.S. Army National Guard in Iraq from 2007-2008. He was a convoy commander ensuring protection for infantry during the movement of personnel and supplies through the country. He is the current commander of Cullman VFW Post 2214. 

Clyde Johnson served as a convoy driver and a door gunner in Iraq. He spent five years with the 20th Special Forces group deploying to various regions including Afghanistan. He represented the U.S. Army Special Forces community.  

Candance Reppond served with the U.S. Army as an intelligence specialist in Afghanistan where she flew arial reconnaissance and participated in ground support missions. She represented all of the Afghanistan war veterans.  

Don Fallon also graduated from West Point. He completed Ranger and Pathfinder training before deploying as a platoon commander in Desert Storm. He later transferred to branches in Army aviation and joined the special operations community. He was involved in the rescue of Captain Richard Phillips from Somali pirates and served eight combat tours. He represented the U.S. Army aviation community.  

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