WINTER PARK – In the mid-1990s, Brigadier General Stephen M. Seay was sent on a mission in the Balkans, where a series of wars were being fought throughout the former Yugoslavia between 1991 and 1995. The wars were characterized by bitter ethnic conflicts between Serbs on one side, and the Croats and Bosnians on the other.
Seay recalls flying over the countryside, where he saw villages that seemed completely destroyed, places where the villagers had clearly fled in search of safety.
“There was no sign of life,” he said.
That is, until he came to the military checkpoints set up as part of the United State’s efforts to broker peace between Croatian forces and the Bosnian Army of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
“When you came upon a checkpoint and find where the soldiers are, you find signs of life,” Seay said. “You find children there. Why are the children there? Because they feel safe. They feel safe among the soldiers.”
This morning, Seay joined fellow residents of Winter Park, a community the now retired general has lived in for the past four years, in paying tribute to members of the Armed Services. He was the guest speaker during the Winter Park Veterans Day Celebration honoring Winter Park Heroes. It was held at the Winter Park Community Center’s Ruby Ball Amphitheater as part of Veteran’s Day.
“I’ve been blessed to be a resident of Winter Park for four years, but really I’m humbled to be in your presence,” Seay told the large crowd that had gathered at the Community Center, initially to hear the VFW Post 2093 Community Board, led by Wilbur “Smitty” Smith, perform patriotic music prior to the speaking program.
“I have lived my life in the military,” Seay said. “I’ve lived my life to try to live up to that honor and legend.”
On a day like this, Seay said, it truly is important to take a moment to pay tribute to those who have served, and are still doing so today, in the defense of freedom.
“There are no finer ambassadors to what our nation is all about than the young men and women serving in the Armed Forces today,” he said. “It is my privilege to be called ‘soldier.’ “
During the ceremony, the Winter Park High School NJROTC Color Guard performed the presentation of colors, and Audrey Knight, a student at the University of North Florida, sang the national anthem. Then veterans young and old were given their due on the national holiday established to honor them.
“This celebration entails the honoring of Winter Park’s heroes,” said Rev. Mitchell L. Dawkins, who presided over the event.
“Today we recognize and honor those who have served our country with their time and their lives for our freedom,” said Winter Park Mayor Kenneth W. Bradley. “Each one of us are free because of those who served so bravely on our behalf. Those who have given the ultimate sacrifice are also not forgotten today.”
The mayor also paid tribute to the widows of soldiers who have lost their lives defending this nation, and said, “May we never, ever forget the ultimate sacrifice they have made.”
Rev. John Williams, pastor of the Ward Chapel AME Church, said all Americans – including those now serving this nation in the Armed Services – share one thing.
“If you are sitting here today, or standing, you are a survivor,” he said.
For those in the military, “I’m not just talking about combat,” Williams said. “You are a survivor because you survived the rigor of basic training.”
But even those who have not served in the military, he added, are survivors of rough economic times and the other challenges that life throws at each and every one of us on a daily basis.
“Veterans and civilians, we are survivors,” he said. “We are survivors because of God’s love. Tell the person next to you, ‘I am a survivor, and I have a testimony to tell.’ “
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