Brown County residents and speakers braved a cold, windy and overcast morning Monday in a Veterans Day observance at the Central Texas Veterans’ Memorial in Brownwood.
“I’ve spent some time in Korea, and this reminds me of a Korean winter day,” retired Army Lt. Gen. Terry Scott, a Coleman native who teaches political science and other honors courses at Howard Payne University, said as he gave the keynote address.
“I’ve been colder than this — but not recently.”
The observance consisted of several elements including patriotic music by the Early Elementary School fifth-grade choir, a presentation honoring the designation of World War I Centennial memorial, the dedication of a plaque honoring the late Joe Blagg, who flew on the first daylight bombing raid to Berlin in World War II, and an address by retired Navy Real Adm. Jeff Lemmons, a Brownwood native. World War II veteran Earl Patrick was presented with a World War II participation medal.
Before the 11 a.m. observance began, guests — bundled up in large coats, hats and hoods — began arriving and braced against the strong, cold wind.
Undaunted by the chill, the Early Elementary School choir performed several songs including a medley of the Army, Navy, Marne Corps, Air Force and Coast Guard songs. Those who’d served in any of those services stood upon hearing the song that commemorated their service.
Marianne Tackett introduced Lemmons, the first speaker. Tackett said Lemmons didn’t want a lengthy introduction and had suggested introducing him as “a guy from Brownwood who is proud to represent our country. I got to serve our Navy and our nation and am now back working in Brownwood with my family at Gator Pump and enjoying some ranching and farming.”
Tackett gave a summary of Lemmons’ lengthy service record and accomplishments before his retirement from the Navy in 2014.
“Today we remember that freedom has a high price, and we pay tribute to the sacrifices that generations of our families have made so that others might enjoy the blessings of liberty,” Lemmons said.
Central Texas has “a proud military heritage,” Lemmons said.
“So many went to serve. Too many never came back, not even to rest in the soil of their native land. … and let’s not forget, as we talk about those that gave the ultimate sacrifice, we had a lot of folks come back. Those were special people that instilled in us the values that we witnessed here today.”
Lemmons acknowledged the Early Elementary School choir and noted the importance of the the Veterans Administration clinic in Brownwood and two veterans organizations — the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion.
Improvements in battlefield medicine have meant more veterans have returned home— “which means there are more veterans we can support,” Lemmons said. “They’re going to need VA care, they’re going to need paces like the VFW and the American Legion, they’re going to need jobs and they’re going to need the love of the community to welcome them back.
“Some of the signs of their injuries may not be so visible.”
It’s important to have a ceremony such as the one Monday morning on a cold day, Lemmons said. “For all of those who came out on such a cold day, you’re sending a message and a signal,” he said.
Lemmons introduced Scott, noting that Scott has served in six foreign countries and on five combat tours, including three in Vietnam, where he was wounded twice. Scott, who retired from the Army in 1996, was appointed by President Bush in 2004 to chair the bipartisan Veterans Disability Benefits Commission.
Scott offered several observations about the VA, saying it has two major problems: the VA was not organized to deal with wounded veterans coming home from Afghanistan and Iraq, and the VA system has not kept up with medical technology.
One issue facing the VA is a “geographic and demographic imbalance” between the location of VA health facilities and the location of veterans, Scott said. He said the veteran population is shifting to the south and west, but major facilities built after World War II are in the north and east.
Another issue is the complexity and size of the VA headquarters in Washington, D.C., Scott said.
“The bureaucracy is stifling, and individual responsibility is not established,” Scott said. “All of us who were in the military know that when the boss said do it, we did it. That’s not generally true in the VA headquarters. The congress and the administration are very frustrated by this lack of accountability.”
Another issue is that Congress and most veterans committees are “quick to criticize the VA but slow to help,” Scott said. “They’re quick to throw the VA and the VA executives under the bus. Sometimes they don’t seem to realize that they are currently responsible to the voters and the veterans for VA success.”
Dr. Steve Kelly, past president of the Central Texas Veterans Memorial Committee, presented Brownwood Mayor Stephen Haynes with a framed certificate. It commemorated the designation, by the World War I Centennial Commission, of the veterans memorial park as an official World War I Centennial Memorial. It is one of 100 in the nation and one of three in Texas.
Near the end of the observance, Margaret Blagg — wearing the Army Air Corps flight jacket owned by her father, Joe, a navigator on B-17s — spoke about the plaque commemorating her father’s mission over Berlin in World War II.
The British were bombing Berlin by night, but no daylight missions had been flown over the German capital until Blagg’s mission on March 4, 1944. Five hundred bombers, accompanied by fighter escorts, took off, but most turned back because of bad weather. Blagg was in a group of 32 bombers that did not turn back and flew toward Berlin without fighter escort.
“He told us that as they got near the target, the flak was terrible, the (German) fighters were merciless,” Margaret Blagg said.
But American P-51 fighter pilots, realizing that a group of B-17s had flown on to Berlin, raced to help them. “He said it was just like the cavalry coming over the hill,” Margaret Blagg said, quoting her father.
One of those P-51 pilots was another Brownwood native — Jack Bradley.
For years after the war, Joe Blagg and Bradley were each unaware that the other had been on that mission — until they figured it out while having a casual conversation.
There had been slightly more than 300 American airmen in the skies over Berlin on that mission, and “it’s quite a coincidence … two of them were from Brownwood,” Margaret Blagg said.