From press & staff reports
Today is the day America celebrates its independence with the ritual of families gathering to have cookouts, parties, and as always, fireworks galore.
However, the true meaning of the Fourth of July is not just about performing these rituals, but to remember the sacrifices made by those who have served in the military or served the country for everyone to enjoy the freedoms they have today.
Many in society may take these freedoms and liberties for granted, never thinking of the lives that were lost to ensure these freedoms. The Fourth of July celebrates the time of America’s declaration to separate from the rule of Great Britain, which was on July 4, 1776.
Withthe US having been through so many wars, it is essential on this day to honor all veterans who fought for those same freedoms and liberties as our forefathers.
To show appreciation to veterans of World War II, Jennings and Neah Bryan hosted the 25th WWII Ex-POW Reunion from June 7-10 at Evergreen Marriot Conference Resort in Stone Mountain, GA.
Jennings and Neah have a strong connection with the veterans. Jennings father was the late Dillard Bryan, who was in the 70th Division, 882nd Field Artillery.
Neah’s dad is Jack Woodward of Louisville. Woodward was in the 106th Division, 590th Field Artillery, and was an Ex-POW that was captured during the Battle of the Bulge on December 19, 1944.
Woodward was one of many prisoners from the 106th as well as the 28th who were held in Stalags IX-A, IX-B, and IX-C. They were at the most northern part of Belgium and it was the coldest winter documented in over 40 years. The men were still wearing what was considered summer clothing, as they had not yet been issued any winter clothing.
“My dad went in around 160 pounds and when he was liberated, he weighed just at 100 pounds,” Bryan said. “He said to try to take their minds off sickness, hunger, and death they would come up with menus for their first meal. Many of these men were physically abused, but all of them suffered horrendous conditions.”
The Bryans were honored to have the opportunity to host the event. “This is a time they get together and reminisce and even still heal,” Bryan said. “I’ve seen a lot of emotion from some of the gentlemen when I’ve gone to these reunions. No one could never learn or read about this in a textbook. We’re living and learning history first hand. These men are history.”
The reunion was honored to have two great keynote speakers to address the veterans. Major General (Retired) George F. Bowman has a long list of accreditations
Including serving in Germany, Korea, and has numerous awards earned during his time in the Armed Forces.
The other keynote speaker was Chief Warrant Officer Five (CW5) Richard Ayers. Ayers has served in Kuwait, Germany, Turkey, and many other places in the world. Ayers is a Master Army Aviator who has over 4,00 flight hours, with half of those flown during deployment.
The Bryans are hoping that this won’t be their last reunion, and hope they will be able to be a part of the next reunion. “This year may mark the last WWII EX-POW Reunion, due to age and health,” Bryan said. “As you know, we’re losing our WWII veterans at an astronomical rate of 1600 per day! So it is incredible that this was their 25th reunion.”
With the loss of veterans everyday, it is crucial to have these types of events to recognize them now. “These men sacrificed everything for our country and for us, and we want them to know that we remember and that we appreciate them,” Bryan said. “Again, we are honored to be a small part of this. They are our heroes.”