Georgia’s governor was the keynote speaker for the Georgia Honors Iraq War Veterans program following a parade that drew a huge crowd to Broad Street on Saturday morning.
“I know we live in a world where it doesn’t appear that the rest of the world appreciates the sacrifice that the United States of America makes on their behalf, as well as on our own behalf, but I can tell you in my travels, in my contacts with people around the rest of the world, they truly understand that the only real bastion of freedom, the only protector of liberty is the United States military,” Deal said to thunderous applause.
During his remarks, Deal called Gold Star Mother Jan Johnson, whose son Justin Johnson was killed in Iraq, to the podium where he presented her with a proclamation declaring June 16, 2012, Celebrate Iraq Veterans and Families Day in the state of Georgia.
“Justin is a Georgia hero; he is an American hero and his service will not be forgotten, nor will we forget your loss,” Deal said.
Deal used the occasion to make a plea for business leaders in the audience to remember that thousands of veterans have returned from Iraq, and many will soon return from Afghanistan, in need of a job.
“Encourage your businesses to make a priority for providing those who have served and defended our country the ability to find a job so that they can return to civilian life, so that they can support their families and become a part of the community once again,” Deal said. “In all regards it seems to me that those who have served our country in uniform deserve a priority.”
Deal asked about 200 Iraq veterans in attendance to stand as the crowd also rose in applause.
U.S. Congressman Tom Graves, R-Ranger, reminded the veterans in the crowd that America would soon be celebrating Independence Day.
“Today we are building upon that. We are celebrating those who ensured that independence will be celebrated in a few weeks,” Graves said. “It is because of you that children will be able to awake tomorrow morning with a dream, an idea. The American dream is protected because of you.”
Last to the podium to honor Iraq veterans was Georgia Commissioner of Veterans Affairs Commissioner Pete Wheeler. The World War II veteran who has served under 12 governors said, “If we value anything more than freedom we will lose our freedom. If we value comfort or money more than freedom, we will lose that, too. We must put love of country and love of God first. We must remember that America is No. 1 thanks to our veterans and those are serving our country throughout the world today. God bless all of you.”
Congressman Phil Gingrey, who was expected to be on the reviewing stand and make remarks at The Forum, was not present and had a letter of support read to the veterans. Letters were also ready from U.S. Sens. Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson.
Jamie Saylor, brother of Paul Saylor who was killed in Iraq, got a standing ovation for the song “Fly On,” which he wrote in memory of his brother. Recording artist Todd Allen also got an ovation for his rendition of “My Name is America.”
Representatives of several services agencies were on hand inside The Forum to offer veterans information of everything from furthering their education to social programs designed to help military personnel re-integrate into civilian life.