Categorized | Opinion

Welcome Back to a Vet

By Dave O’Dell

Dave O’Dell

EDITOR’S NOTE: Dave O’Dell retired military wrote a column for The Millington Star years ago. With his distinguished career, travels and ties to the military still going strong, O’Dell is back on the pages of The Star with a monthly column The Patriot Corner.

Greetings, it’s great to be back! For those of you whom may not know me, my name is Dave O’Dell and I was a guest columnist who wrote a monthly Veteran’s column for the Millington Star several years ago. Thanks to Thomas Sellers Jr. and staff, I’m back with “The Patriot Corner”, The Purpose of this column is to pay tribute to those who serve our country and communities. I also hope to provide you with information and historical facts that you may not know, about patriot people, organizations and holidays.

The inspiration for the column came to me several years ago; I was standing with a group of people when a car passed by us that had a POW/MIA flag in the back window. I heard the lady behind me ask the man she was with “who is this POW/MIA person?’ I think most people know it stands for “Prisoner of war/Missing in action”, what you may not know is the story behind it. Captain Wilmer Newlin Grubbs was an Air Force pilot who was shot down over North Vietnam on Jan. 26, 1966 and without his wife Evelyn Grubbs, there may not be a POW/MIA flag as we know it today. Shortly after Capt. Grubbs disappeared, a photo of him as a captive was published in many newspapers in the United States.

Evelyn Grubbs and other spouses formed the “League of wife’s of POW’s which later became the “League of families of POW’s”. Evelyn Grubbs was instrumental in the creation and adoption by the organization of the “You are not forgotten” POW/MIA flag we so proudly fly today. Evelyn Grubbs passed away at the age of 74 on Dec. 28, 2005 and I’m proud to honor and recognize her as an American Patriot, may she rest in peace.

One of the Patriotic organizations I’ve been involved with over the past several years is the Patriot Guard Riders (PGR). As described in their mission statement on the National website, and to paraphrase; they are a diverse group of people who share a common interest in motorcycles and showing respect to those who risk their lives for America’s freedom and security.

They don’t care what you ride or if you ride. It doesn’t matter what political party you belong to, or if you are a military veteran.  It doesn’t matter where you are from or what your income level is, the only prerequisite is; RESPECT!

The PGR attend the funeral services of fallen American heroes as invited guest of the family members with two basic objectives;

1) Show their sincere respect for the fallen heroes, their families, and their communities.

2) Shield the mourning family and their guests from interruptions created by protesters. (This is accomplished through strictly legal and non-violent means.)

This heart felt message is posted at the bottom of the mission statement; “To those of you who are currently serving and fighting for the freedoms of others, at home and abroad, please know that we are backing you. We honor and support you with every mission we carry out, and we are praying for a safe return home for all’.

For someone like me, along with many other Americans, who have family members currently serving on active duty, that statement really means something.

The PGR are very active around here. One of the first Patriot Guard missions I remember participating in was in 2006 for PFC Kevin Edgin of Dyersburg.  PFC Edgin was killed in action by small arms fire during an ambush on July 6th, 2006 in Baghram Valley, Afghanistan. The family of Kevin Edgin requested that an escort by the PGR be provided to accompany them and the mortal remains of this young hero from The Memphis Airport to Dyersburg. The PGR did this with honor and respect and because I was able to see what it meant to the family, I’ve been participating whenever I can ever since. Unfortunately, I was unable to attend the funeral of Clarence Joseph “Frenchy” Levesque, however, Frenchy’s wife invited the PGR to attend and honor her husband and the family, which they did, as they always will.

I don’t think there are very many people who live in Millington who did not know who Frenchy was; after all, he had owned and operated Frenchy’s Barber Shop for over 50 years. I’ve lived in Millington for 22 years and only Frenchy and GOD knows how many times he cut my hair. Frenchy was a proud Marine and a good man with a colorful personality, with his passing on Oct. 23, 2012 we lost another great one and he will be missed by all who knew him, rest in peace my friend.

Most recently I had the honor of attending a Patriot Guard mission for EODCM John Phillip Siegel.  Master Chief Siegel was an Ordnance Disposal Technician stationed here at the base in Millington. Master Chief Siegel had been in the Military for 28 years and he was 47 years young. I do not know the details of Master Chief Siegel’s passing; I just know that his passing was a sudden loss for his family and the community. The family requested that a flag line entering the chapel be provided by the (PGR), all in attendance were honored to do so. Visit for more information on how to get involved with the PGR, they truly are a great organization.

At the beginning of this article I expressed my desire to provide you with information and historical facts that you may not already know about patriotic people, organizations, and holidays. So far, we have talked about Evelyn Grubbs and her contribution regarding the POW/MIA flag, she is certainly a patriotic person. The Patriot Guard Riders, without a doubt, a patriotic organization. It’s only fitting that we talk about Veterans Day which is normally observed on November 11th, however, November 11th falls on a Sunday this year so it will be observed as a federal holiday on Monday Nov. 12. I never have a problem remembering when Veterans Day is because I arrived at boot camp in Great Lakes, Ill. On Veterans Day (Nov. 11) 32 years ago. Veterans Day is a special day because it gives us an opportunity to pay respect to, and remember those who have served our country.

Some died in combat, some returned home safely, and some of those who have returned home safely have since passed away — all deserving recognition for their contribution. Did you know, originally, Veterans Day was called Armistice Day? It was proclaimed in May of 1938 that Armistice Day would be an official holiday, observed on Nov. 11th of each year, whereby all Americans could celebrate the virtues of peace and honor the veterans of World War I.  In 1954, after the United States had yet battled in two more wars, President Eisenhower signed a bill that amended the resolution and changed the name of the holiday from Armistice Day to Veterans Day, recognizing all veterans from all of the wars that had taken place. In 1968, this would change again when a bill was passed changing the observance of Veterans Day to the fourth Monday in October, giving people a longer holiday weekend. The holiday was observed this way for the first time on October 25, 1971, and it would stay that way until 1975, when Gerald Ford signed a new law into effect that would change Veterans Day back to original date of November 11, of each year, as it remains today. It honors all of the veterans of all of the armed forces of the United States who fought in any of the wars and conflicts. It once only honored the fighting men, but it now includes all of the veterans, men and women, who have done their part in helping to maintain peace, liberty, and the freedom that all Americans enjoy.

There is a simple doctrine that outside of giving one’s personal love, giving your labor for something that you believe in is the most sacred thing you can give. When you combine one’s personal love for his/her country and willingness to labor for that in which he/she believes, it’s easy to see that those who serve in the armed forces of the United States are some of the most special people you will ever encounter.

The recent deaths of the Americans in Benghazi Libya are a reminder that our freedom is not free. The families of the fallen heroes are left to pick up the pieces of their broken lives and broken hearts.

As a grateful nation, it is our responsibility to hold them close as they mourn and honor the memory of their loved ones who served so bravely, never forgetting the sacrifices that have been made. President Calvin Coolidge once said, “A nation that forgets its defenders will itself be forgotten.” Let’s not be that nation.

  • Barbara Foles

    Mr. Dave O’Dell is married to my awesome neice Rhonda Cook O’Dell. I want to say, great job Dave. Never met you before but I love your column. From the great state of Mississippi “good job”.

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