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Veterans Day 2022 – Celebrating Effingham heroes
Program honors ‘all who served, all who sacrificed’
Teacher Lindsey Plankhorn’s student leaders sing “My Country Tis of Thee” during Friday’s Veterans Day ceremony at Blandford Elementary School. - photo by Mark Lastinger

SPRINGFIELD — Nick Pumfrey’s Veterans Day speech wasn’t just a bare-bones recitation of facts and figures. The charismatic presentation at the Effingham County Board of Education Office auditorium featured meaty portions that were seasoned with raw emotion.

“There are more than 300 million people in this country and only 7.3 percent of them have chosen to serve (in the military),” Pumfrey said. “That’s a real small number.”

Pumfrey, the pastor at Clyo and Silver Hill Methodist churches, went on to note that fewer than one percent of Americans are currently in the military.

“To those that are currently serving, ‘Thank you,’ ” he said. “To those who have gotten out of the military and did their time, ‘Thank you.’ And to those that gave the ultimate sacrifice, for those that died, laid their life down for our country and our freedom, for their families that may or may not be here today, ‘Thank you. Thank you.’ ”

Pumfrey served in Operation Enduring Freedom in 2002 and Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003. He was an air defender and cavalry scout.

“When I was in the Army, my weapon of choice was the Bradley (Fighting Vehicle),” he said. “... I loved that Bradley. I was good on that Bradley. If you saw me coming, you’d better be scared.

“But today, my weapon of choice is God’s holy, mighty and powerful Word — the Bible.”

Veterans Day speaker Pastor Nick Pumfrey offered a powerful message at Friday’s program. - photo by Mark Lastinger

Pumfrey then focused his attention on John 15:12-13: “This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

“These verses talk about a willingness — a willingness — to sacrifice,” Pumfrey said.

Pumfrey’s unit never lost a member during his Army stint. After his departure, however, some of his friends died in Iraq.

“One of them, his name was Chad Lake,” Pumfrey said. “I wear his name on my wrist to this day. I named my son after him.”

Lake died in February 2005 while on combat patrol near Balad. A vehicle he shared with Sgt. Rene Knox Jr. and Spec. Dakotah Gooding overturned in a canal, killing them.

“I celebrate these folks,” Pumfrey said. “I celebrate what it is that they did. I celebrate their willingness.

“I celebrate the memories that I have with these three men.”

Pumfrey said it is important to support families who have lost loved ones in the military.

“I think it is so important that we reach out to them, that we call them, that we share our smile, that we share a picture, that we share a story so that they, too, can remember that their loved one, their willingness, was not a loss,” he said. “It was a gain and that it is remembered, and it is honored.”

Pumfrey prayed for the fallen before mentioning to living veterans who no longer serve.

“Civilian life doesn’t break down that bond that was there,” he said.

As an example, Pumfrey shared a story about Billy Armstrong, a Florida friend who recently lost everything he owned to Hurricane Ian.

“His brothers in arms, his people that would care for him, his people who served alongside of him would reach out and pray for him, and come together and even support him financially so that as the literal storm of life surrounds this veteran, veterans supported him so that he could be made whole, so that he could make it through and have a place to live,” Pumfrey said. “This is one of the ways that we can support of our veterans.”

Pumfrey mentioned another Florida friend who has battled lingering issues since getting out of the Army. Concerned about him, Pumfrey went to see him, finding him virtually withdrawn from society.

“I will never forget the hug that we shared ...,” Pumfrey said. “... There were no words in that moment. It was just a hug, an embrace, and he shook as I held him.

“We can support our veterans just by being there. Sometimes you won’t have the words. I didn’t know what he was going through in his mind. I didn’t know which battle he was fighting but he needed the presence.

“I am not special. I don’t have special powers. I don’t have anything that any of y’all don’t have. We all have the ability to be present.”

Lastly, Pumfrey discussed people who are currently in the military. He urged the audience of about 150 people to not take them for granted.

“They are staying ready all for you,” he said, “so when you see them in the grocery store, a smile, a handshake, a ‘thank you,’ maybe even a hug, will go a long way to recognize what they are willing to do,” he said. “Remember, it is less that one percent of the country that is willing to do this for you.”

In addition to Pumfrey’s speech, the Veterans Day observance, moved indoors because of rainy conditions caused by the remnants of Hurricane Nicole, featured the Effingham County High School AFJROTC and the Effingham County Middle School Symphonic Band. Danny Burgstiner served as the master of ceremonies and Russ Deen served as song leader.