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Our busy lives keep us on the road, which often means we miss being a part of the community we live in, especially on the weekends. If there was ever a time to be in Columbia, Kentucky it was on Sunday, October 2, 2011, when Adair County saluted their native son, Sgt. Dakota Meyer, Medal of Honor Recipient, at the Lindsey Wilson College Blue Raider Stadium, in Columbia, Kentucky. Of all the special and famous people we have met and known, and amazing events we have participated in, to be in the presence of a real American hero was the most moving and deeply inspiring experience we have ever shared.
Sgt. Meyer’s entrance was preceded by a parade through the town where he was led by over 300 bikers known as The Patriot Guard Ridersa diverse amalgamation of riders from across the nation who show their sincere respect for our fallen heroes, their families, and their communities shielding the mourning family and their friends from interruptions created by any protestor or group of protestors in a peaceful and law abiding manor. This was a joyous day for the riders, who escorted Medal of Honor recipient Sgt. Dakota Meyer into the stadium. Vietnam Veteran Joe Hare, who led the escort, was given the duty of introducing Sgt. Meyer to his hometown crowd following the speeches, presentations, and music performed in his honor. "I am going to try not to lose it." Hare said with emotion, "Because this is a honor to be here to introduce our American hero."
We arrived at the Blue Raider Stadium, the football field belonging to Lindsey Wilson College, which can be seen from the Cumberland Parkway, the southern road connecting Somerset Kentucky to Bowling Green. My Aunt Jessie Phelps Reed attended Lindsey Wilson 84 years ago. Before she died at 99 years old she had pretty severe dementia, but “bless her heart” (as they say a lot in the south) when we told her we had moved to Columbia, she kept repeating she went to Lindsey Wilson College. It was a part of her life she always recalled in spite of her faded memory.
The college is flourishing bringing needed work and broadening the dimension of the rural county of Adair. During the ceremony honoring Sgt. Meyer he received several gifts, citations, American flags, which had flown in his honor at the White House, and multiple donations to the Marine Corp Scholarship Fund in his name. Lindsey Wilson College Dean Chris Schmidt presented Sgt. Dakota Meyer a full four year scholarship to Lindsey Wilson College "to be used any time in his lifetime," receiving an enthusiast applause by the packed stadium.
This was a fitting gift, as Meyer in finding a way for his experience and honor to “make a difference” by partnering with the Marine Corps Scholarship Foundation to raise $1 million by the Foundation’s 50th anniversary on May 28, 2012. He has also issued a “Challenge to America” to match his efforts and raise an additional $1 million to “Honor Marines by Educating their Children.” Aunt Jessie would be proud to know that her “Alma Mater” one of the first institutes of higher learning in the rural region of south central Kentucky played host to our hometown American Hero.
Earlier this year, the 24 year old Marine veteran was working nearby for his cousin on a construction crew when he received the call from President Obama to tell him of the honor which was about to be bestowed upon him. But he didn't take the call right away and asked if the President could call back on his lunch hour "If I don't work, I don't get paid." He told Obama's assistant. So during Meyer’s lunch hour, The President of the United States called back, and thanked him for taking his call. Sgt. Meyer was visibly relaxed and comfortable as his family, friends, and proud hometown crowd looked on and he smiled when that story was referred to during the ceremony.
Young boys and girls came with their families to witness the event. Many undoubtedly were influenced by being in the presence of a brave country boy from Kentucky who "was just doing his job" on that horrific day in Afghanistan when he and fellow Marine Gunnery Sgt. Rodriguez-Chavez defied orders going back to the battlefield under attack five times to save his fellow soldiers, and retrieve the bodies of those who had died under fire. “The soldiers who gave their lives for our freedom are the real heroes.” Meyer added.
After some establishments from the town stepped forward to present the money raised for this effort, we lined up for the chance to have out photo taken with him, and to give him a check as a donation. JJ asked if he could touch the medal and Sgt. Meyer easily agreed. I watched him stand for over an hour before us to pose for photos, and saw the stoic look on his face he held during the ceremony we had watched on TV with President Obama when he hung the medal on the young Marine. “Could you smile with us Sgt. Meyer?” I asked. “I’ll try,” Dakota responded, “but it does not come easily to me to smile.”
Both my husband JJ Hathaway and I keep commenting to each other how the day is still with us, like a great movie you have seen and can’t stop thinking about.
We moved to this beautiful country community in 2005, purchasing 127 acres of pristine land on a ridge road, with fields, trails, and a flowing creek where several tributaries called “branches” contribute to the water flow. It’s the kind of area where people wave when they pass you on the highway, and smile and make eye contact as you travel the isles of the grocery store. We formed many friendships easily here, and always feel a pull when duty calls and we head off to all parts of the country and Europe to cover equestrian events.
So on this weekend I was happy to finally stay home, care for my ponies myself, walk through the woods, and let the dogs run through the creek. My husband was in his deer stand with a bow and arrow each afternoon, and I puttered by the computer, or at least tried to, as a severe case of fall fever was upon me.
And on this weekend the greatest event for us in 2011 was happening in our own back yard, just a 10-mile drive from home.