Retired Judge John Allen speaks at National Infantry Museum's Memorial Day ceremony

chwilliams@ledger-enquirer.comMay 26, 2014 

Retired Muscogee County Superior Court Judge John Allen offered a definition of those who have served in the U.S. military.

During the Memorial Day ceremony at the National Infantry Museum and Soldier Center at Patriot Park, Allen was clear in his definition of a hero.

"In most Hollywood movies, they were projected as 6-feet-plus, John Wayne-types when they were just as likely a scrawny kid from Podunk, rural town, USA," Allen told the nearly 500 people gathered for the ceremony and paver dedication.

Allen should know.

He came out of the Booker T. Washington public housing complex in Columbus and Tukegee University to become a highly decorated Vietnam fighter pilot.

"These real veterans are in many cases more personal than those distant images; they are grandfathers, your great uncles and great aunts," Allen said. "They are your fathers, mothers, and yes, for the older ones in the audience, your brothers and sisters. They were everyday family persons no different than you.

"They are lost friends and neighbors, regular businessmen, and teachers, lawyers, even judges, pastors, even presidents -- and yes even some criminals."

Allen's remarks struck a chord with retired Command Sgt. Maj. Ricky Young, who is now executive director of the National Armor and Cavalry Heritage Foundation.

"I really heard him speak to the diversity of the sacrifice," Young said. "Not everyone who has died fits that Hollywood image of 10-feet tall and bulletproof. Everyone who served was called. And he paid homage of that service and to those who paid the ultimate sacrifice."

Allen spoke directly to that point.

"When visions of veterans are conjured, we perceive the tall, brave, the strong eagerly placing their lives on the line," he said. "But there were also the thin, the slightly obese and the frightened. There are many who served without the benefit of great physical prowess or outstanding courage -- but they served."

Allen said they were two reasons we honor these veterans.

"Why do we honor this hodge-podge of sizes, races and hues, these persons of diverse levels of courage who fought for vastly different reasons?" he asked. "We do so, in part, for two reasons: one, to acknowledge their sacrifices; and two, what the honoring does for us."

The National Infantry Museum dedicated 233 new pavers on its Heritage Walk Monday morning. That brings the total pave to 4,430. The pavers, purchased for $250 each, are a reminder of a person, organization or event.

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