by Jean Gordon

As fall continues with some colors of orange, burgundy and yellow and the much appreciated cooler temperatures are upon us, before we know it the holiday season will be here. In 28 days Americans will celebrate Thanksgiving and four weeks later, we’ll rejoice in the Christmas season. Where has 2019 gone?

Before we start planning our Thanksgiving feast or holiday travel and begin our Christmas shopping, we can’t forget to honor our veterans in Rutherford County, the state and nation.

On Monday, November 11, we’ll recognize veterans. Collectively we will celebrate our veterans with special ceremonies at Rumbling Bald Resort beginning at 10 a.m. on November 11. The Town of Lake Lure is joining the Rumbling Bald staff in hosting this event.

Veterans representing branches of the military will be celebrated and thanked for their service to our country and the freedoms we have because of them.

I think about our military personnel in war zones, those working to keep our country safe on the home front and our dedicated veterans here in Rutherford County always working to make life better for us. 

We see so many veterans out and about these days raising funds to keep veteran organizations active in order to support one another. The Disabled American Veterans (DAV) are often seen in downtown areas selling raffle tickets and caps, raising money to further the cause of their group. 

As in the past, the Cpl. Chris S. Ebert Marine Corps League is collecting toys for the less fortunate in Rutherford County through its annual Christmas Toys for Tots drive. Every toy placed in the collection boxes will go to a Rutherford County child. Last year more than 800 children received toys.

We can honor these veterans by dropping a toy in the collection boxes placed in strategic locations in the county.

I remember when Chris Ebert and his twin brother, Brian Ebert went to the Marines after graduating from Chase High School. I wrote stories about them joining the service together and would later write the story of Chris, who did not come home with Brian. He died in Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2004. Brian continues to support his brother’s memory.

We will thank the Greatest Generation veterans and as we realize their numbers are decreasing. These World War II veterans are so special. I see them walking with canes, rolling in wheel chairs and many in assisted living facilities. Some are fortunate to still be at home living life to the fullest at this time of their lives.

One of the best days of my journalism career came in 2006 when I flew to Washington, D.C. with a group of veterans and watched as they respectively visited the World War II Memorial. I remember seeing them as they searched for the names of those who died in service. 

Another favorite veteran stories was that of Air Force Col. Ted Ballard’s return home to Rutherford County from Vietnam where he was a Prisoner of War from 1966 to 1973 ― the day the war ended. I became acquainted with his wife Ruth Searcy Ballard and their young son, Kevin. They lived in the Green Hill area with family in Bill’s Creek. When Col. Ballard came home he was honored with a celebration at the Lake Lure Inn where his wife and their son, were greeted with a red carpet reception. There was also a celebration in downtown Rutherfordton with a hero’s parade and celebration.

I interviewed Col. Ballard a few years ago and we talked about his life after the war. He was proud to have served his country in the Air Force. Col. Ballard died in May 2019 in Spartanburg, South Carolina, which was his original home. I saw a photo of him and couldn’t help but notice first his gray hair that replaced the dark hair I remembered the first time I saw him at the Spartanburg Greenville airport as he returned from Vietnam. He shared his unbelievable story during a press conference at the airport.

There are thousands of veterans in Rutherford County today from the days of World War II, Korean War, Vietnam War and the Middle East wars. I see veterans wearing their ball caps identifying their respective branches of service and proudly standing up for America. I can see them as they salute the American flag, their hands shaking, but never missing an opportunity to remove the caps and salute.

I also see those younger veterans as they work earnestly to realize a dream of taking care of home and family, as they try to overcome life altering injuries while fighting in the Middle East conflicts. I can also see that young female soldier saluting the American flag, with a countenance of pride.

Soon after Veterans Day, we’ll turn our thoughts to Thanksgiving where we’ll count our blessing one by one, sitting around a bountiful table with family and friends. What if we made a special effort to include that lonely veteran in our neighborhood to sit at our table?

Four weeks later we celebrate the greatest gift ever given, Jesus. We can attend church services in houses of worship of our choice and gather for Christmas dinner with family and friends in our safe homes. If there is a veteran at the table, thank him/her for the role they played in our freedom of living in the best country in the world where we can celebrate holidays as we wish.

Jean Gordon is a former editor/reporter for The Daily Courier in Forest City.  She began her journalism career in 1970 at the Rutherford County News and joined the Courier staff in 1994.