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City of Heflin’s Veterans Day Breakfast Monday morning at the Sgt. Maj. Harold Lee Jones Armory. Center is Travis Crowe, Heflin City Councilman. Photo by Bill Wilson / The Anniston Star

HEFLIN — Robert Martin, 97, sat with friends and about 100 other people at the city of Heflin’s Veterans Day breakfast on Monday morning at the Sgt. Maj. Harold Lee Jones Armory.

Martin, who was stationed in the Philippines during the early 1940s during World War II, served more than five years in the Army and was grateful to be at the annual breakfast.

“Just a joy to be alive, my goodness, when you get as old as I am, it's pretty rough at times,” Martin said with a broad smile.

That smile faded as he recalled his wartime experience on the island nation.

“It’s just hard to talk about it ... I’m just very blessed to have come back and have a good life,” said Martin.

Ralph Turner, 73, a Vietnam veteran, served his tenure in the Marine Corps, said he enjoys the hospitality and gratitude the city of Heflin provided for the veterans. 

“We never had it in my day ... it brings joy to your heart,” Turner said as he cut a Danish with his fork.

Turner said he served in a topographical unit which surveyed the rivers of Vietnam. He didn’t see as much combat as other units, he said.

“We got shot at, but not like the ground pounders had,” said Turner.

Todd Chandler, the Cleburne County Middle School principal and a master sergeant in the National Guard, was invited to speak and said it was an honor to do so.

“It’s humbling, looking around at some of these older gentlemen I see a few of the folks that I’ve served with before,” Chander said.

Chander served in Afghanistan during Operation Resolute Support in 2017-18, according to Heflin Mayor Rudy Rooks, who introduced Chandler. 

Rooks said Chander had 120 combat missions either by ground or air during his deployment.

Chandler spoke about the U.S. flag and what it means to him.

“It has become a hot topic over the last few years. The flag is more than a topic, it is a symbol of so many different aspects of what is America and what makes America great,” Chander said.

“The flag itself has meaning. It’s changed 27 times since the start of America, each color, each stripe, each star stands for something,” he said.

“It’s something that’s visceral to a veteran, it’s something that we fought for, something that we’ve raised our hand and said, ‘Hey, we got this,’” Chandler said.

 After Chandler finished his remarks, all veterans in the armory, a total of 17, were asked to line up in front of the stage to introduce themselves. 

Some of the veterans were brought to tears as they spoke of sacrifices made and loved ones who had served in previous conflicts.

After the breakfast was over, Rooks said he was grateful for another successful Veterans Day program.

“It’s our pleasure to set aside a little time during this day to honor these guys. They gave so much for our country,” said Rooks. 

Rooks thanked the city staff who came in on their day off to help and the local grocery stores who furnished the breakfast.

“It means so much for the city to do something, just to pay back just a small amount of honor to the guys that gave so much,” Rooks said. 

​Staff writer Bill Wilson: 256-235-3562. On Twitter @bwilson_star.

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