News Category Archive

NEW Spirit of America Organizational Committee Meeting

July 15th, 2014 by admin Categories: News No Responses

August 14,2014 at the Eagle Amphitheater (located between the ice rink and the river) at 6:30 p.m. For anyone interested in either serving on the Board of Directors, committee or just to volunteer.

Call 256-476-6016 for more information

Decatur’s Star Spangled Event Named a Top 20 Event in the Southeast

July 1st, 2013 by admin Categories: News No Responses


Decatur, Ala. – At the height of summer comes a special time when Americans join together to celebrate our nation’s freedom and to pause and reflect on the sacrifices military personnel and their families make every day. Always held July 4th, the Spirit of America Festival attracts thousands of families to Point Mallard Park in Decatur for some free star-spangled fun, awards, music, and games. Festival organizers are pleased to announce this year’s festival has been named a top 20 event in the southeastern United States.

This year’s Spirit of America Festival has been named a Top 20 event for July by the Southeast Tourism Society (STS), a non-profit organization dedicated to the promotion and development of tourism to its 12 member states of Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia. Through a nomination process, STS chooses the Top 20 events in the Southeast for each month of the year and publishes the list of winners quarterly. The Top 20 Events publication is distributed to over 1,600 newspapers, magazines, radio stations, TV stations, AAA publications and others.

Decatur’s free Independence Day celebration kicks off at 4 p.m. with the Children’s Bike Parade where patriotic decorated bikes, tricycles, wagons, strollers, and four wheels make their way from the TC Almon Center to the Honda Children’s Area. There is no fee to participate in the Bike Parade; however, registration is required beginning at 3 p.m. First, second, and third place prizes will be presented during an awards ceremony beginning at 5 p.m. on the Children’s Stage.

Other activities include entertainment from Bill Crosby, karate demonstrations, face painting, balloon crafting, and inflatables in the children’s area, a hula hoop contest for children 5 to 12 years old, the Ping Pong Ball Drop for children up to 12 years old, and a Money in the Hay contest for children up to 8 years old.

Live music will also fire up the crowd in between the star-spangled activities. Slated to perform on the Auxiliary Stage are bluegrass band Grassy Divide at 4 p.m. followed by vocalist Taylor McLain from 5 to 6:30 p.m.

At 7 p.m., the Children’s Area closes and festival goers can make their way to the Spirit of America Stage for the Spirit of America Award Show, a presentation of awards recognizing outstanding service and sacrifice for country and fellow man, and the Miss Point Mallard Pageant, a preliminary for the Miss America Pageant.

More than just a fireworks celebration on the 4th of July, an awards program was developed to pay honor to the true meaning of the day. Named in honor of America’s most decorated soldier and Congressional Medal of Honor recipient Audie Murphy, the Audie Murphy Patriotism Award is presented to an outstanding American patriot or an outstanding group of individuals who best exemplify the true “Spirit of America.” This year’s Audie Murphy Patriotism award is presented posthumously to Lieutenant Colonel Elliott Cecil Chandler, for his heroic actions and leadership abilities during the Korean War.

The Barrett C. Shelton Sr., Freedom Award was established in 1980 in honor of local newspaper publisher Barrett C. Shelton, Sr., one of the founders of the Spirit of America Festival. The award is presented to honor an Alabamian for outstanding service to his community. The Spirit of America Festival Committee presents the Shelton Freedom Award posthumously to the family of Earl Claxton Warren, who bravely served his country and is known as “the Teenager at Pointe du Hoc” and later made significant contributions to his community and state.

Added in 1994, the Humanitarian Award is presented to an individual, group or organization whose efforts have significantly contributed to the betterment of life, health and welfare of mankind and state. This year’s recipient is Miss Anna Laura Bryan, Miss Alabama 2012 and a top 12 finalist in the Miss America pageant, for her platform work with P.A.W.S. for Autism: People and Animals Working Side by Side.

In 2011, the Spirit of America Festival Board of Directors introduced a new award named in honor of its first recipients, the CSM John and Brenda Perry Award for Support for Military Families to recognize the significant contributions, suffering and deprivation that military families endure, all in the support of their family members who serve in our nation’s Armed Forces. The award is to be presented to that person, group or organization that has significantly supported military families. This year’s recipient is the Patriot Guard Riders, a group who understands the theme of the 2013 festival, “Freedom Is Not Free”, and whose motto is “Standing for those who stood for us.” The Patriot Guard Riders is a diverse amalgamation of riders from across the United States with one thing in common besides motorcycles. Members have an unwavering respect for those who risk their lives for America’s freedom and security.

Following the crowning of the new Miss Point Mallard, the celebration culminates at 10 p.m. with a spectacular fireworks display. Freedom Is Not Free is the theme of the 2013 Spirit of America Fireworks display, one of the largest free fireworks exhibitions in the region. The fireworks display begins at 10 p.m. and a live simulcast will be offered by the Festival’s media partner, Clear Channel Communications and can be heard on WDRM 102.1 and 100.3 The River.

Press Release-2013 SpiritofAmericaFestival

2012 CSM John & Brenda Perry Support for Military Families Award

June 12th, 2012 by admin Categories: News No Responses

The Blue Star Mothers of Morgan County, Alabama

Blue star Mothers of Morgan County, AlabamaThe Blue Star Mothers of Morgan County was chartered March 13, 2009 as an affiliate of the nationally chartered Blue Star Mothers of America, Inc.

From its first five members, the group has grown to a total membership of 37 in 2012, including Associate members. To join the Blue Star Mothers, a member must be a mother, step-mother, a foster mother, a grandmother, or a female legal guardian to a son, daughter, grandson, or granddaughter who is serving, or who has been honorably discharged from the Armed Forces of the United States.  All others interested in participating may join as Associate members.

The initial goal of the Blue Star Mothers of Morgan County, Alabama was to provide care packages to deployed service personnel from Morgan County.  The group’s secondary goal is to be available to provide emotional support to Mothers of service members as they deal with the concerns of having a child serving our country. The organization is also open to Gold Star Mothers,  a special group of women who have paid the ultimate sacrifice by losing a child in the line of duty.

The Blue Star Mothers of Morgan County, Alabama take the most joy and pride from the limitless support shown by the people from our community through generous donations, hours of volunteer service, and willingness to support our fundraising efforts. With this support, the organization has had to purchase very little of the contents for its care packages as  many people and organizations have collected items through collection drives at schools, churches, and businesses, as well as individual contributions.

With a humble beginning of mailing one care package at its initial meeting,  the group has grown to an all-time high of sending 96 care packages in November 2011 for our special Christmas mailing. With the war in Iraq coming to a close our mailing list has shrunk considerably, but the Blue Star Mothers have not forgotten that we still have troops deployed in other places all over the world who love to receive our care packages.

Not only does the Blue Star Mothers of Morgan County, Alabama provide support to our deployed military personnel and their families, we provide support to local veterans.  The group is very active in the Combined Patriotic Organizations (CPO) of Morgan County. This year, the President of the Blue Star Mothers also serves as the commander of the CPO. The organization participates in all military ceremonies in Morgan County, marches in local parades, and holds several fundraisers throughout the year to ensure that our children know that we at home are supporting them, and missing them. A little piece of home while you are away means so much.

The Blue Star Mothers of Morgan County meets the first Tuesday of each month at the East Highland Baptist Church in Hartselle at 7:00 p.m.   The organization is classified as a 501(c)(3) charitable organization and gladly accepts monetary donations for postage, and items for our care packages.

For more information, please contact Theresa Groves, President at 256-606-4414 or Violet Kaylor, 1st Vice President at 256-476-0792.  Visit the Blue Star Mothers of Morgan County, Alabama on the web at or visit our Facebook page.

Photo: 1st row – Theresa Groves – President, Marie Pierce – Secretary, Shelby Powell – 2nd Vice President, Violet Kaylor – 1st Vice President, and Rebecca
2nd row – Terri Norwoos – Chaplain, Sheila Nelson – Corresponding Secretary, Terasa Driggers – Financial Secretary, and Angela Wallace – Treasurer

2012 Barrett C. Shelton Sr., Freedom Award

June 12th, 2012 by admin Categories: News No Responses

Lieutenant Colonel James L. Walker
United States Army (Retired)

Lt. Col. James L. WalkerLieutenant Colonel James L. Walker has been a soldier, historian, philanthropist, advocate for children and an educator. Colonel Walker is a product of the segregated educational system of Alabama. The nurturing and guidance provided by the educators in that system have been largely responsible for any amount of success he has had as an adult.

Lieutenant Colonel James L. Walker was born in Athens, Alabama to James Alvin “Bunt” Walker and Lizzie Mae Walker. He attended various segregated elementary schools in Limestone County. The school sessions began in the hot July heat of the Alabama summers and ran until cotton picking time in late August or early September. After a two month break for cotton picking,  the school session started again in late November and ran until May. His mother, a schoolteacher in Limestone County, wanted her son to attend a better school than the church schools that were predominant in Limestone County,  so they moved to Athens when he was five years old and he enrolled in the local Colored city school, Miller Elementary.

After completing high school at Trinity High School in Athens, Walker was drafted into the United States Army as a private. After serving in Fort Benning, Georgia and Vietnam,  he was honorably discharged in 1969. After returning to the United States,  he enrolled in Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia, where he earned a Bachelor of Arts Degree in 1972. At various times throughout the following years he earned two Master of Arts Degrees and two Master of Science Degrees. He also graduated from the US Army’s Command and General Staff College and the US Navy’s Command and General Staff College. He engaged in further studies at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Lieutenant Colonel Walker entered the military for the second time in 1972, serving on active duty as a second lieutenant with the United States Army. During the course of a twenty-four year career,  he served at numerous locations throughout the world to include, Korea, Somalia, Germany and several posts in the United States.

After retirement from the Army in 1992, LTC Walker agreed to return to active duty in 1993 to oversee JROTC Operations in Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and West Florida. During this assignment he was responsible for the operation of 121 JROTC Programs and the establishment of 50 new programs throughout the Southeast. Desiring to work directly with kids,  he left that position in 1995 to establish the first Army JROTC Program at Austin High School.

At Austin,  his cadets have achieved outstanding success. They have earned fifteen consecutive Honor Unit with Distinction ratings from the US Army. They earned the JROTC program a “commended” rating from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Accreditation Committee. Seventeen cadets have been selected to attend one of the nation’s elite military academies or Ivy League Schools. Several have earned four year scholarships to major universities. They have earned more than $10 million dollars in scholarship money. Twice in the last five years,  an Austin Cadet has been named one of Alabama’s Young Heroes. More than twenty have been selected for Alabama Boys or Girls State. Fifty- four students  have attended the Model United Nations at Harvard and Vanderbilt Universities,  and recently one of his cadets was selected to participate in a U.S. State Department student ambassador’s trip to Cambodia.

Lieutenant Colonel Walker and his wife Florence live in Tanner, Alabama.  They have two grown children, Toshawnka, who lives in Huntsville, and Kamilah, who lives in Tanner.


2012 Audie Murphy Patriotism Award Winner

June 11th, 2012 by admin Categories: News No Responses

The 2012 Spirit of America Audie Murphy Patriotism Award will be presented to

Laura Ayers


Laura AyersLaura Ayers was selected for the Audie Murphy Patriotism Award because of her volunteer work in support of soldiers and their families as well as to individuals with disabilities.   She began her volunteer work as a tutor for a disabled child 28 years ago, and later joined FAST (Future Assets, Student Talents) FAST is a non-profit organization that seeks to motivate and prepare talented students with disabilities and  help further their education.   As an engineer in industry,   Laura began working with soldiers and their families in 1995.  Her desire to help soldiers would quickly intensify soon after she became a U.S. Army Department of Defense civilian engineer on September 10, 2001.   Ayers continues to be devoted to the cause of soldiers and their families.

Laura Ayers is a co-author of the Reintegration Action Plan (RAP) workbook for returning soldiers.  The RAP workbook is endorsed by the State of Alabama, the U.S. Army, the Department of Defense, the Department of Veterans Affairs, as well as other state and local municipalities.  A free copy can be viewed at

Volunteer Boards:

  • Greengate School, Trustee / Board Member (school for children with dyslexia)
  • Association of the United States Army (AUSA) Redstone- Huntsville Chapter, VP Awards Program
  • North Alabama Veterans and Fraternal Organizations Coalition, Board Member
  • Alabama Returning Veterans, Co-founder, Co-Chairman
  • North Alabama Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation (RMEF) Committee – North Alabama Chapter
    RMEF is leading a conservation initiative that has protected or enhanced habitat on over 6 million acres—an area larger than Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, Glacier, Yosemite, Rocky Mountain and Great Smoky Mountains national parks combined. RMEF also is a strong voice for hunters in access, wildlife management and conservation policy issues. Because of her leadership they routinely sponsor hunting trips for wounded warriors.)
  • State of Alabama Returning Service Members, Veterans and Their Families Policy Academy Committee; Appointed by Alabama Governor, to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) panel
  • Still Serving Veterans, Co-founder, former Board Member
  • Huntsville Madison County Veterans Memorial Time Capsule Team
  • Co-chairman for the Needy Soldier program for the last three years working with the Madison Cheer Brigade to provide destitute Army Reserve and National Guard soldier and their families food, clothing and money at Christmas time.
  • She routinely helps Soldiers who have financial problems. (This is significant because National Guard and Army Reserve Soldiers not on active duty aren’t directly supported by the Army support agencies.)

Example of recent activities include:

  • Beginning in 2003 Sending Care packages to deployed units soldiers and to the families.  The first 3 units were soldiers deployed from Ft Campbell were only give 2 weeks to notice of the deployment. The soliders left thinking they would only be gone for 3 months.  She would coordinate with the FRG leaders and the unit commanders to learn of needs on the home front and in the field.  She would call upon friends to help meet the needs and they always went above and beyond to make sure they could support their mission.  She and her friends sent care packages almost every month through all current conflict deployments to Iraq. When the deployments started in Afghnistan she and her friends supported several of the North Alabama Deployments.. Ayers tells the story of a unit deploying just before Thanksgiving, and getting an email from a Chaplin asking for help in getting Christmas decorations. She ended up buying 5 trees before getting one that given the shipping size would make it to the unit by Christmas.  She describes it as the time she shipped the “Charlie Brown Christmas tree”. The 600 plus soldiers were so thankful for the tree and the ornaments they held a big tree lighting event. The tree was lit by a 3 star general, and they got the 82ndBand to travel to come and play Christmas music.  So far from home,  a small tree seemed large.    Ayers and her friends sent over 160 packages at Christmas, every Sgt First Class and below got an 18 lb gift bag.Sending of care packages also included sending gifts on behalf of soldiers to their families.  She would coordinate with the solider and learn of an anniversary, birthday of a child, and other key events.  Ayers always acted as requested by the soldier, and at no cost to the soldier.  She says picking a card for people you do not know, and then signing them on behalf of the solider was interesting (nicknames).  She never shares the details.The most interesting requests include a new motor for a family car, a refrigerator, and new lawn mowers.  Yes , the family car did get a new motor, the refrigerator got a new motor and  as for a lawn mower, someone was found to cut the grass at no charge until the soldier returned. Family needs were always done through Family Readiness Group leaders and with the request that she and her friends remain anonymous.
  • Soldiers began coming home from deployment with disabilities and the families who had already been used to asking for her help continued to ask for help.. Ayers used the skills gained while helping children with disabilities.  Her compassion and caring heart made it easy for them to work through the needs.  She would do a  pre-coordination to identify the right person to meet the need, while always adhering to strict medical guidelines. She would then walk the family through the process to get the help needed.  It was often getting PTSD treatment, other types of counseling, or support through a legal issue.  She always handled the needs with respect, and provided the soldier or veteran or the family member with the dignity.
  • Ayers also helped an Army Reserve soldier whose wife was recently diagnosed with diabetes and he had no insurance. Medical bills were depleting the savings and he had just received notice his civilian job was being cut due to the weak economy.  She worked with them to locate resources and work on his resume.
  • Funding transportation for a Soldier to go home to see sick family member.
  • Personally adopting a young Marine Reservist and his family who recently fell on hard times. Upon answering a request for assistance, she immediately said that she would contact the individual, evaluate the situation and respond accordingly. She then provided the family with food and supplier and also paid for the family to travel back to their parents for a visit.

She has helped many families for years and has always preferred to remain anonymous.

Ayers is a Department of Defense civilian engineer currently working for the U.S. Army, Headquarters Army Materiel Command at Redstone Arsenal.  She has worked in govennment and industry for 33 years and has a B.S in Electrical Engineering, an M.S. in Aerospace Engineering, and is currently pursuing a PhD in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Alabama in Huntsville.

Education:  The University of Alabama in Huntsville

  • Doctor of Philosophy , Mechanical Engineering (Rotorcraft Platform), in process
  • M.S.E, Aerospace Engineering (Missile and Rotorcraft Platforms)
  • B.S.E, Electrical Engineering, Cum Laude

Callie Walker Crowned Miss Alabama’s Outstanding Teen 2012

March 12th, 2012 by admin Categories: News No Responses

Congratulations to Callie Walker, Miss Point Mallard’s Outstanding Teen, on being crowned Miss Alabama’s Outstanding Teen 2012! She will represent our state in the Miss America’s Outstanding Teen Pageant in Orlando, Fla., August 14-18. Callie also won a preliminary physical fitness award.

Thirty-eight contestants from throughout Alabama were part of the 10th annual competition held March 3-4 in Sylacauga.

First runner-up was Miss Tuscaloosa’s Outstanding Teen, Hannah Brown of Tuscaloosa. Second runner-up was Miss Rocket City’s Outstanding Teen, Bria Kalpen of Phenix City. Third runner-up was Caroline Pettey of Decatur, Miss Tennessee Valley’s Outstanding Teen. Fourth runner-up was Madge Ellis of Sylacauga, Miss Talladega County’s Outstanding Teen.

Miss Jefferson County’s Outstanding Teen, Susanna Bagwell of Birmingham – who was Miss Point Mallard’s Outstanding Teen 2010 – was a Top 10 finalist.

Honoring American Heroes

July 6th, 2011 by admin Categories: News No Responses
The Decatur Daily

Decatur had the privilege Monday of publicly honoring some of the many soldiers who have risked their lives to defend our nation.

Joe Bongiovanni of Decatur received the Spirit of America Humanitarian Award. An Italian immigrant who’s now general manager of Serra Toyota, Bongiovanni is a Vietnam veteran who volunteered to lead a U.S. Marine Corps combat squad. While his military service was outstanding, he received the award for his efforts to support service men and women returning from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Frank Libutti of Huntsville received the Audie Murphy Patriotism Award. The Vietnam veteran earned a Silver Star and three Purple Hearts for his involvement in a perilous action in which 130 Marines battled 3,000 North Vietnamese troops. Libutti carried the dead and wounded to tanks despite constant enemy fire, demonstrating the harsh truth behind the Marine slogan, “Leave no one behind.”

Ret. Col. Terry Thomas and Sgt. Major John and Brenda Perry also received awards for their distinguished service.

Most of us consider ourselves patriots. We love our country. We vote, engage in debate designed to improve our nation, volunteer for community service and fly our flag.

Few of us, however, have had to measure the extent of our patriotism against the brutal measuring stick of combat. Would we die for our country? Would we risk all to serve our nation in an unpopular war?

Bongiovanni and Libutti demonstrated the extreme patriotism and bravery that has protected the greatest democracy on Earth. Like those honored Sunday, thousands of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan must wonder every day whether they will live to see tomorrow. They also must face the mundane aspects of courage that don’t get mentioned in award ceremonies: the sweat and dirt and heat, the tedium and homesickness, the fear of friends who may turn out to be enemies, the long stretches without sleep. And many must deal with a haunting emotional burden that follows them home.

These men and women are putting it all on the line to support the United States of America. We owe them not just our gratitude, but our promise that we will do what we can to make sure our nation remains worthy of their sacrifice.

Ervin Repeats as Winner of Miss Point Mallard Title

July 5th, 2011 by admin Categories: News No Responses
Miss Point Mallard 2011 Meredith Ervin.

Daily photos by Jeronimo Nisa - Miss Point Mallard 2011 Meredith Ervin.

The Decatur Daily
By Evan Belanger

For the second time, Meredith Ervin of Huntsville claimed the Miss Point Mallard title at the Spirit of America Festival in Decatur on Monday.

The 23-year-old, who also won in 2009, is only the third repeat winner in the scholarship pageant’s 41-year history.

Calling the win “an unbelievable honor,” Ervin said she will continue her work with Protecting You/Protecting Me. The Mothers Against Drunk Driving initiative strives to prevent alcohol and drug abuse through educational programs geared toward school-aged children.

After her last win, Ervin filmed television commercials for the initiative that aired in 150 cities. She said she hopes to continue the ad campaign and form a partnership with the local mental health association.

A graduate of Birmingham-Southern University with a degree in dance, Ervin also won the talent portion of the pageant with her ballet performance, and she won the evening wear competition.

Miss Point Mallard 2011 Meredith Ervin is crowned by the 2010 winner Haley Bagwell on Monday.

Miss Point Mallard 2011 Meredith Ervin is crowned by the 2010 winner Haley Bagwell on Monday.

The daughter of Huntsville residents Norm and Debbie Ervin, she takes home a $5,600 scholarship, and will go on to compete for Miss Alabama in June. The winner of that contest will compete in Miss America next year in Las Vegas.

“This is such a giving community as evidenced by the amount of scholarship money that was raised,” Ervin said after accepting the title. “Being able represent this community for another year is just an unbelievable honor.”

First runner-up and winner of the swimsuit competition was Sydnii Todd, a 21-year-old broadcast journalism major at Troy University. She took home a $1,400 scholarship.

Second runner-up and Miss Congeniality winner was Carly Evans, 20, of Pratville. She took a $1,200 scholarship as she continues her nursing studies at the University of Alabama.

Miss Point Mallard 2011 Meredith Ervin, left, embraces her father, Norman Ervin.

Miss Point Mallard 2011 Meredith Ervin, left, embraces her father, Norman Ervin.

Third runner-up was Julie Meeks, 21, of Tuscaloosa. A telecommunications major at the University of Alabama, she won a $950 scholarship. And Caitlin Guffin, 23, of Auburn, took fourth runner-up and $750 scholarship as she continues her public relations studies at Auburn University.

Winning the community-service award was Jamie Brooks, 21, of Clay. A student at the University of North Alabama, she is studying public relations.

In all, $10,000 in scholarships were awarded during the pageant.

Reason to Celebrate

July 5th, 2011 by admin Categories: News No Responses
The Decatur Daily
by Evan Belanger

Spirit of America Festival pays homage to heroes among us


Daily photos by Jeronimo Nisa - Spectators watch Monday night’s Fourth of July fireworks display at the 45th-annual Spirit of America Festival at Decatur’s Point Mallard Park.

With multiple awards to his name for heroism in the face of grave danger, retired U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Frank Libutti humbly accepted another honor Monday — this one named for a childhood hero.

Libutti is the 2011 recipient of the Audie Murphy Patriotism Award, presented during the 45th-annual Spirit of America Festival at Point Mallard Park.

The annual award bears the name of its first recipient, Murphy, the most decorated serviceman of World War II.

He died in a plane crash before he could accept the award at the first Spirit festival in 1967.

“He represented all that is great about this country,” Libutti said. “He was a great hero and a great American.”

Libutti, a Vietnam veteran, who lives in Huntsville, is no stranger to heroic acts.

Audie Murphy Award recipient, retired Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Frank Libutti, at Monday night’s ceremony.

Audie Murphy Award recipient, retired Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Frank Libutti, at Monday night’s ceremony.

He earned a Silver Star and three Purple Hearts for his service in a dangerous action involving 130 overwhelmed Marines battling some 3,000 North Vietnamese troops.

Despite withering enemy fire — Libutti was wounded three times during the engagement — he continued carrying dead and wounded Marines to awaiting tanks, taking steps to ensure they did not withdraw before all had been extracted.

Libutti, who says the real heroes are those who did not come home, continues his heroic work today, coordinating fundraisers to provide weekend entertainment for wounded veterans.

Following the Sept. 11 terror attacks, he also served as New York City’s deputy police commander over the Counter Terrorism Bureau and later was undersecretary of information analysis and infrastructure protection for the Department of Homeland Security.

In accepting the award, Libutti stressed the vision and sacrifice made by so many Americans to form the country he called the greatest democracy on earth.

“Americans are our country. You are America,” he told hundreds of people in the audience at Spirit Field.

Other awards presented Monday were as follows:

John and Brenda Perry were presented the new Support for Military Families Award at the Independence Day ceremony. Subsequent awards will bear their name.

John and Brenda Perry were presented the new Support for Military Families Award at the Independence Day ceremony. Subsequent awards will bear their name.

  • Command Sgt. Maj. John and Brenda Perry Support for Military Families Award: Recipients John and Brenda Perry serve more than 140 families with loved ones overseas. The Perrys are volunteer leaders for a family readiness group serving a deployed combat engineering unit.

In their work, they regularly organize farewell and welcome-home ceremonies, inform family members of war developments and arrange teleconferences between soldiers and spouses. With their son, Chad, deployed with the unit, their work takes on a deeply personal meaning.

The award will forever bear their name as its first recipients, though they say there are hundreds more involved in their work.

“We are only the tip of the iceberg,” John Perry said.

Retired Army National Guard Col. Terry Thomas, right is presented the Barrett C. Shelton Freedom Award at Monday night’s ceremony from Maj. Gen. Troy Oliver. Oliver is a former commander of the Decatur-based 142nd Signal Brigade Guard unit, and mayor of Russellville.

Retired Army National Guard Col. Terry Thomas, right is presented the Barrett C. Shelton Freedom Award at Monday night’s ceremony from Maj. Gen. Troy Oliver. Oliver is a former commander of the Decatur-based 142nd Signal Brigade Guard unit, and mayor of Russellville.

  • Barrett C. Shelton Sr. Freedom Award: After coordinating the deployment of 2,000 U.S. troops to Iraq in 2004, Ret. Col. Terry Thomas volunteered to deploy himself to the war-torn country.
  • At the request of a friend who was still serving, Thomas shipped overseas to coordinate communications in Kuwait and Baghdad.

“At some point, you’ve got to look inside yourself and say, ‘You know, I sent 2,000 people over there, but I haven’t been myself.’ It makes you feel better running into them on the street and they know you’ve been to the same places you have.”

During his 29-year military career with the U.S. Air Force and Alabama Army National Guard, he earned the Silver Order of Mercury, the U.S. Army Signal Corps’ highest honor.

He also coordinated warfare training in South Korea during the 1980s.

Joe Bongiovanni of Decatur, Humanitarian Award winner, on the Spirit stage Monday night.

Joe Bongiovanni of Decatur, Humanitarian Award winner, on the Spirit stage Monday night.

  • Spirit of America Humanitarian Award: A Vietnam War veteran who volunteered to lead a U.S. Marine Corps combat squad, Joe Bongiovanni continues his support of the military and its personnel today. As chairman of Semper Fi Community Task Force, he works to improve the morale of service men and women returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

And, as general manager of Serra Toyota in Decatur, he is also a major contributor to the Marine Corps Toys for Tots program and numerous other charities. Bongiovanni immigrated to America from Italy at the age of 11 and became interested in the Marine Corps while learning U.S. history.

While accepting his award, Bongiovanni told the crowd his greatest gift in life was becoming an American citizen in 1974.

“It is the greatest country in the world and it is the greatest gift we’ve ever had,” he said. “I’m so proud to be an American and I’m proud to be a Marine.”

Veteran Alabama Guardsman Thomas to Receive Barrett C. Shelton Freedom Award

July 4th, 2011 by admin Categories: News No Responses
The Decatur Daily
by Jason Lankford
Retired Col. Terry Thomas will be honored tonight.

Courtesy Photo - Retired Col. Terry Thomas will be honored tonight.

Coordinating the deployment of 2,000 troops from three National Guard battalions is no small task, but for Col. Terry Thomas, it was just part of his duty to his country.

Thomas made sure the guardsmen were medically fit and in top condition before their 2004 deployment to the Persian Gulf, and stepped in to help soldiers’ families while their loved ones were overseas.

For his efforts, Thomas will receive the Barrett C. Shelton Freedom Award tonight during the Spirit of America Festival at Point Mallard.

After the guardsmen returned home after a year’s deployment, Thomas was preparing to retire after 29 years of military service. At the request of a friend serving in Kuwait, though, he volunteered to go overseas to coordinate communications in Kuwait and Bagdad.

“At some point you’ve got to look inside yourself and say, ‘You know, I sent 2,000 people over there, but I haven’t been myself,’ ” Thomas said. “It makes you feel better running into them on the street and they know you’ve been to the same places they have.”

Life in Iraq

Thomas said life in Iraq was far different than what he was used to, but some things were virtually the same.

“It was really interesting that there was a war going on, but you would see (families) out there working in a field just like you would see here in Alabama,” Thomas said.

“They were just going on with their lives. A few bad guys ruined it for everybody else.”

Thomas was born on Keesler Air Force Base in Mississippi, where his father was stationed. Like many children of military personnel, he moved around to different places, ultimately ending up in Texas, where he finished high school.

He started his military career in the Air Force in 1976. Ironically, he said, his first assignment was as a clerk in the same hospital where he was born. He transferred to the Army National Guard two years later, attending the Alabama Military Academy, where he became a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army Signal Corps upon graduation.

Thomas became an administrative officer for the Alabama National Guard, serving in several posts in North Alabama.

During the 1980s, he coordinated warfare training at a military base in South Korea.

He earned several honors during his career, including the Silver Order of Mercury, the Signal Corps’ highest medal for officers.

Most satisfaction

The award that brought the most satisfaction, however, was the Alabama Commendation Medal he received for mobilizing National Guard members to help people who had lost power and water in Lauderdale County during an ice storm, he said.

“That one means a lot to me,” Thomas said. “It’s the things you do for your own community that really matter.”

Thomas retired in 2006, then asked himself, “What do I do now?”

He became a JROTC instructor at Albertville High School, providing students with an introduction to the military, offering guidance and being there to help resolve problems at home.

Thomas said he can relate to the challenges many students face.

“It’s hard being a kid in 10th grade and trying to figure out what you want to do with your life,” Thomas said.

“I’ve got years of life experience I can share with the young ones, and if it makes a difference in even one kid’s life, then it’s worth it.”