The community came together at Veterans Park on Friday morning to remember local heroes and to recognize the effects U.S. conflicts have had on Effingham County.
In an atmosphere of circumstance and reverence, a crowd of more than 200 local veterans, citizens and community leaders took to their feet as a local 90-year-old World War II veteran finally received his awards and decorations for his service in the U.S. Army Air Force during the war.
Lanier White, of Clyo, was emotional as he stood with his children, Delmons White and Mary Ann Samuels, after state Sen. Jack Hill pinned on his medals.
“Well, it’s unexplainable,” the elder White said. “I thank God for getting me through it and letting me live to see it. He took me to it and took me through it. And I can’t explain how much (this means).”
White was called to active duty and deployed to Europe on April 16, 1944, spending 19 months overseas. Previously, he had passed basic training at Fort Benning with anti-aircraft machine gun training and had been trained as a fire fighter in New Orleans.
He was called to duty just as he has settled in Clyo as a newlywed to raise his family.
Dr. Franklin Goldwire, a Vietnam veteran, recalled White’s arrival in Europe as he and his fellow soldiers were immediately thrust into combat on shore. White spent the night in a foxhole.
White’s platoon followed the Normandy invasion through northern France, Luxembourg, central Europe and Munich, Germany.
White returned to the U.S. in late October 1945 and was honorably discharged Nov. 2, 1945.
“Even though he was called to duty while he was having the time of his life as a newlywed,” said Goldwire, “he considered it an honor and a privilege to serve this great country.”
Goldwire said that White’s “swift discharge from military service” prevented him from receiving his awards and decorations.
Entering the war as Pfc. White, he was promoted to specialist and then finally technical sergeant. Cpl. White was pinned as such Friday by his children.
White also received the Good Conduct Medal, which Goldwire said other soldiers aspire to “because it speaks to the character of the soldier.” White earned the medal for having no judicial punishment, disciplinary infractions or court martial offenses.
White was also awarded the American Defense Service Medal, now known as the National Defense Service Medal, for serving more than a year on active duty during the war time.
Finally, he received the European African Middle Eastern Campaign medal with four Bronze Stars , the WWII Victory medal, an American flag, a Georgia state flag and a shadow box, which Goldwire said “hprovides a visual legacy of his military career.”
Goldwire said he was inspired to do this in part because of his longstanding relationship with White.
“I think it was an excellent opportunity to present his awards and decorations,” said Goldwire, “and I thought he deserved an opportunity for the community to learn about his contribution to our freedom.
“He’s an unsung hero, a kind gentleman and works hard in the church. He was a big supporter to me during my military career. During command ceremonies, awards and decorations, he was already there. He was like my father, who passed away before I was going through military career, but (White) was always there to support me and encourage me and back me up. And I just wanted to do it.”
Veterans and citizens made a point to shake White’s hand, congratulate him and to thank him for his service after the program recessed.
During the program, service men and women from each of the military branches were recognized and Norma Jean Morgan recounted the historic relevance and the state of Effingham during the Civil War and recognize the deceased Effingham Civil War veterans.
“I think that the veterans really deserve this,” said veteran Ronald Goodwin, a retired Air Force technical sergeant. “There’s a lot going on. We’re not all being recognized, and I feel it’s wrong. When you get a county like Effingham County, that gets these programs on board, I think it’s really wonderful.”
Morgan thanked Ruth Lee for once again organizing the ceremony.
“(Let us) hold one another’s hands, at least in our hearts,” said Morgan, “and be reminded that freedom is not free.”