News Category Archive

John and Brenda Perry to Receive Support for Military Families Award

July 4th, 2011 by admin Categories: News No Responses
The Decatur Daily
By Jason Lankford
John and Brenda Perry will be honored for their efforts as Family Readiness Group leaders.

Courtesy Photo - John and Brenda Perry will be honored for their efforts as Family Readiness Group leaders.

The war in Afghanistan took on a deeply personal meaning for John and Brenda Perry when they volunteered to be Family Readiness Group leaders for the combat engineering unit their son Chad was deployed with over there.

The husband-and-wife team reached out to more than 140 families with loved ones overseas — organizing farewell and welcome-home ceremonies, keeping them informed about war developments, and organizing teleconferences between soldiers and spouses.

“The spouses and parents were really appreciative of what we were doing,” said John Perry, then a command sergeant major in the Army Reserves. “It was a very emotional time for the families, and we could relate. They could look at us and know that we were sincere, and not just mouthing the words.”

The Perrys have been named recipients of the Spirit of America Festival’s inaugural Support for Military Families Award, and future awards will be named in their honor.

“They have been on the key front of critical and charitable programs for families since day one of the war,” said Spirit of America Festival Committee Chairman David Carney. “They are leaders in the North Alabama area.”

John Perry said he and his wife are “just the tip of the iceberg” of many people who made a difference in the lives of soldiers and their families.

John Perry, a Vietnam War-era veteran, was drafted in 1970 to serve in West Germany as part of the Pershing Missile Operation, the first line of defense against a potential Soviet invasion of Western Europe.

It was a time when being a soldier was unpopular, he said, and returning veterans were met with suspicion or outright abuse.

“Those of us from the Vietnam era don’t want to see our sons and daughters get the same treatment,” he said. “We need them to feel like their sacrifice was worth it. We want to make them feel like heroes.”

John Perry said the war in Afghanistan brought the local veteran community much closer together, and the bond he has with his own family was strengthened.

“It made us closer and made our faith stronger,” Brenda said. “It made me realize you don’t fuss and argue about small stuff. It put a lot of things in perspective.”

A Connecticut native, John Perry was on active duty for seven years, spending half of that time in Germany.

After he returned from Germany he was stationed at Redstone Arsenal, and earned an electrical engineering degree. He joined the Army Reserves and was assigned to a chemical unit.

He met Brenda, an Alabama native from Skyline, while both worked at Chrysler in Huntsville.

John Perry said he was apprehensive about what Brenda’s father, a World War II veteran, would think about her dating a “Connecticut yankee,” but his veteran’s status scored points with the patriarch.

The two have been married 22 years.

Since retiring three years ago, John Perry has been very active in the Family Readiness Group and other service organizations. He said he may actually be busier now than he ever was before.

The couple helped the city of Madison start the Holiday Cheer Brigade, putting together gift packages to send to deployed soldiers and their families at Christmas.

They also helped other veterans to start Operation Christmas Bear, a holiday party for the children of soldiers.

“They’re a group of people who just do wonders,” Brenda said. “It’s not a hit-and-miss thing. It’s a really organized, good quality show of community support for the families to let them know we really appreciate their sacrifices.”

Summer Festivals Booming in the South

June 30th, 2011 by admin Categories: News No Responses
The Decatur Daily

Fireworks mean more than simply sparkles; displays will honor anniversaries: 50th for Vietnam, 10th for Sept. 11

Decatur Fireworks

Daily file photo by Gary Cosby Jr. - See the fireworks at the Spirit of America Festival on Monday night about 10. The display will honor the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War and the 10th anniversary of Sept. 11.

The red, white and blue of the American flag will adorn jackets, T-shirts, cars and hair bows as revelers celebrate the Fourth of July on Monday. It is a day of fun, food, fireworks and family at the Spirit of America Festival in Decatur. But it is also a day of remembrance.

“This year is the 50th anniversary of America’s involvement in the Vietnam War and also the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, and we will commemorate that,” said Melinda Dunn, organizer of the festival. “The whole theme of Spirit of America — ‘I Pledge Allegiance’ — is to honor the sacrifice of others.”

A mainstay at Point Mallard Park for 45 years, the festival will feature live entertainment, a children’s bike parade, the Boy Scouts Celebration Area, the Miss Point Mallard, Miss Outstanding Teen and Little Miss pageants, the honoring of war heroes, including a Silver Star Award and Purple Heart recipient, and yes, of course, fireworks.

The 13-minute display, scheduled to begin at 10 p.m., will include patriotic music and radio recordings from an ambush in Vietnam, of the first plane hitting the World Trade Center, a dispatch to 9-1-1 from a fire department and excerpts of speeches by President John F. Kennedy and President George W. Bush.

“I wanted to create something besides the usual boom, boom, boom to music,” said Julianne Lowman, who designed and coordinated the display. “I wanted to really capture what it means to live in America and to honor the military troops serving overseas. It really is very powerful.”

The best spots to view the fireworks: on-site at the park and by boat on the water. Do not, Lowman said, stop by the side of the interstate.

“We create the display specifically with the audience on site in mind,” she said. “When you are physically here, you can hear and feel the concussion of the shells that really places you in the scene. It just adds so much more.”

New to the festival this year is the Lego Adventure Tour.

“They will set up four tents and will have timed competition buildings. It is all very fun and very free,” Dunn said.

For those not able to travel to Point Mallard, check out the Spirit of Athens Fireworks Festival or the Celebration Huntsville show.

The Athens display will kick off at dusk at Athens High School.

In Huntsville, for the first time, Bridge Street Town Centre and the U.S. Space and Rocket Center are partnering to display synchronized shows. The dual shows will start about 8:45 p.m. and last 20 minutes.

Even the organizers are anticipating the lighting up of the night sky with red, pink, yellow, green and blue explosions.

Doug Badia, executive vice president of operations with Bridge Street developer O&S Holdings, called the show “the largest fireworks display I believe the city has ever seen.”

Before the production, revelers can spend the day listening to live music while testing their competitive eating chops with ice cream, watermelon and wings.

Spirit Fest Honoree Joe Bongiovanni ‘Always Faithful’ in Remembering Vets

June 30th, 2011 by admin Categories: News No Responses
The Decatur Daily
By Ronnie Thomas

Joe Bongiovanni didn’t speak English when he arrived at Niagara Falls, N.Y., from his native Sicily as a wide-eyed 11-year-old.

“We only went to fifth grade in the old country, and I had almost finished school when we immigrated to America,” he said. “They put me back in third grade here.”

But in learning the new language, he became as familiar with the Latin phrase — Semper Fidelis — as he did with English terms such as “let’s play ball.”

That’s because Bongiovanni buried himself in history lessons as he moved forward with his reading skills.

He became intrigued with books about World War II and the Korean War, and enamored of the Marine Corps and its abbreviated slogan, Semper Fi — Always Faithful.

“The Marines are the first to fight,” he said. “I was proud of my country, and I wanted to do the right thing and fight for my country.”

Bongiovanni did that as a 19-year-old Marine in Vietnam, serving as a combat squad leader.

He continues to support his country by boosting the morale of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

For that, and for giving back to area residents as well, the Decatur resident will receive the Humanitarian Award on July 4 at the 2011 Spirit of America Festival at Point Mallard Park.

The award is part of a tribute to Vietnam veterans during the 50th anniversary year of the Vietnam War.

“I couldn’t think of a better person than Joe to receive the award,” said Joe Shelley, 64, of Madison, who is vice chairman of the Semper Fi Community Task Force of North Alabama, which Bongiovanni serves as chairman. “He’s modest about his service and one of the most patriotic persons I know. He does a lot in the community that people don’t realize to help our veterans.”

Shelley served as a captain in an artillery battery in the mountains of Da Nang in 1964.

Bob Marshall, 50, of Huntsville is the previous chairman of the task force.

“Joe is a very passionate and great-hearted man,” said Marshall, a former Marine aviator who served from 1983 until 2004, gaining the rank of lieutenant colonel. “He’s never forgotten the sacrifices and the cost of military service in combat. I think he was probably never recognized for that, as so many thousands of Marines, sailors and soldiers serving in Vietnam weren’t, upon their return home. I think that is an indelible memory in the minds of most Vietnam veterans.”

Serra Toyota

And Bongiovanni, 63, general manager of Serra Toyota in Decatur, who also is a major supporter of the annual Marine Corps Toys for Tots program and numerous other charities, said he is fortunate to meet other veterans, dating to World II.

“I believe the greatest generation we have is the young men and women serving now,” said Bongiovanni, who came to Decatur in 2000 from Bradenton, Fla., where he was a partner in a Toyota dealership. “Each generation steps up to the plate, and those serving today are all volunteers.”

He volunteered for Vietnam in 1967 for a 13-month tour that landed him in rat-infested bunkers and some of the most vicious battles of the war, such as the Tet Offensive in late January and early February 1968 and the Battle of Dai Do that May.

He also read newspapers from the states, finding it disturbing that troops didn’t have the support they believed they deserved. That really came to light for the veterans as they returned home, he said, some getting spat upon simply because they answered their country’s call.

Task force member

Determined to avert such treatment for veterans in the future, Bongiovanni became involved with the Semper Fi Community Task Force of North Alabama, established in 2006.

In April 2007, the Marine Corps initiated its first Heroes Week during Veterans Day weekend and brought 17 Wounded Warriors to the area.

In November, more than 60 Wounded Warriors and their spouses will be in North Alabama for a week of activities.

“Battle shock, field fatigue or post traumatic stress syndrome, whatever term you wish to call it, has always been there,” Bongiovanni said. “Seeing all the destruction and buddies being killed and maimed affects the psyche. It’s great that our community turns out to welcome these heroes.”

Eyes of warriors

He said the gratitude is seen in the eyes of warriors such as Lance Cpl. John Hermann of Wisconsin.

“He was so appreciative and thankful for his visit here,” Bongiovanni said. “He sent me his rack (medals). He died twice on the operating table in Iraq. He served another tour there and is now serving in Afghanistan.”

Bongiovanni said he has attended the Spirit of America Festival several times in the past.

“I got to meet heroes then,” he said. “When I was notified I’d be the recipient of this award, I was somewhat surprised. But as it gets closer and it really begins to sink in, I feel really proud and happy. I wish I could share this with the men who served with me.”

He and Denice, his wife of more than 30 years, have two sons, Christopher, 26, of Huntsville, and Jonathan, 22, of Decatur.

14 Girls Compete for Miss Point Mallard Outstanding Teen Crown

June 30th, 2011 by admin Categories: News No Responses
The Decatur Daily
By Catherine Godbey
Miss Point Mallard’s Outstanding Teen 2010 Susanna Bagwell will crown this year’s winner at the pageant Sunday night.

Daily file by Jeronimo Nisa - Miss Point Mallard’s Outstanding Teen 2010 Susanna Bagwell will crown this year’s winner at the pageant Sunday night.

Fourteen singing, clogging, high-kicking and saxophone-playing teens will kick off the 45th annual Spirit of America Festival on Sunday.

While many teenagers will spend the Fourth of July pigging out on barbecue and hanging out with friends, these teen girls registered for Miss Point Mallard’s Outstanding Teen Pageant.

The fourth annual competition, which begins at 7 p.m. on the Spirit of America Stage at Point Mallard Park, will include girls from Oneonta, Pelham, Trussville, Hoover, Tuscaloosa, Birmingham, Calera, Huntsville, Madison and two representatives from Decatur: Anna Moses and Caroline Pettey. Moses will perform a ballet en pointe and Pettey, a jazz routine.

The winner of the competition will compete for the title of Miss Alabama’s Outstanding Teen in Sylacauga in March.

Like the Miss Point Mallard Pageant, which is Monday night, the Outstanding Teen Pageant is turning into one of the premier contests, said Barry Sublett, pageant director. The three previous winners of Miss Outstanding Teen — Katie Malone of Trussville, Katie Gilhooly of Decatur, and Susanna Bagwell of Hoover — all placed in the top 12 of the state competition.

“It’s a good entryway for the girls into the bigger pageants,” Sublett said.

Earlier this month Malone competed in the Miss Alabama Pageant as Miss North Jefferson Area and is returning to the Spirit of America stage Monday to compete in the Miss Point Mallard competition.

Based on the theme “Sweet Home Alabama,” the pageant will feature music by Alabama artists, including Lynyrd Skynyrd, Lionel Richie, Nat King Cole, The Commodores, Percy Sledge and Jimmy Buffett.

Miss Alabama’s Outstanding Teen 2010 and Miss America’s Outstanding Teen first runner-up Scarlett Walker of Birmingham will serve as mistress of ceremonies. Miss Alabama’s reigning Outstanding Teen Mi’a Callens of Birmingham will make a special appearance.

A five-member judging panel will rate the contestants on talent, private interview, physical fitness, evening gown and onstage question.

Little Miss

The Little Miss Point Mallard competition for girls ages 6 to 12 will be Saturday at 7 p.m. in the T.C. Almon Recreation Center.

Miss Point Mallard’s Outstanding Teen contestants:
  • Madison Brown, 14, Calera, tap
  • Miranda Cornelius, 15, Oneonta, vocal
  • Selena Henderson, 14, Madison, tenor saxophone
  • Connie Jo Malone, 16, of Trussville, clog
  • Sera Jane McAnally, 13, Decatur, dance
  • Mary Ann McDougal, 14, Birmingham, vocal
  • Janna Meeks, 14, Tuscaloosa, dance
  • Anna Moses, Decatur, ballet en pointe
  • Emily O’Rear, 13, of Oneonta, jazz
  • Caroline Pettey, 16, Decatur, jazz
  • Caitlynn Quintela, 13, Huntsville, ballet en pointe
  • Sydney Slaughter, 13, of Pelham, ballet
  • Anna Thigpen, 13, of Hoover, jazz
  • Callie Walker, Birmingham, ballet en pointe

Have a Blast at the 45th Annual Spirit of America Festival

June 13th, 2011 by admin Categories: News No Responses

Have a blast this 4th of July at the 45th Annual Spirit of America Festival held at Point Mallard Park !  This year’s event promises to be filled with all of the food, fun and fireworks that visitors have always enjoyed, as well as incorporate new features that will celebrate American traditions and spirit.  The activities and pageantry associated with this Decatur tradition has garnered the event a significant reputation throughout the Southeast,  with the event being one of the largest FREE 4th of July events in the southeast.  The 2011 Spirit of America theme is “I Pledge Allegiance” and honors those individuals who have demonstrated their pledge to our nation through their service and sacrifice.  It is also a call to action for citizens today to renew their commitment to our country.  As part of the festival, the Spirit of America Festival is commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War and the 10th Anniversary of 9-11.  The festival is also proud to highlight 2011 as The Year of Alabama Music as designated by the Alabama Bureau of Tourism and Travel.  The Spirit of America Festival combines meaning, memory and mirth into a two-day event that offers something for the entire family!

Spend your entire 4th of July at Point Mallard Park, as events will be concentrated throughout the day to encourage families to make the Spirit of America Festival their destination for fun on the 4th.   All events open at 12:00 on Monday, July 4.  Decorate your bike, trike, wagon, strollers and wheelchairs and participate in the Children’s Bike Ride to kick-off the day!  See Lady Liberty live as she escorts guests in the bike parade to a Children’s Area that is overflowing with activities this year to include displays, carnival games, inflatable’s, crafts and a children’s entertainment stage with featured entertainment from Lady Liberty.  (Note:  Though there is no charge for entry into the festival,  some activities in the children’s area will require the purchase of a ticket for participation.  All efforts are made to keep these costs low and support the rental of equipment, purchase of supplies, etc.)  Make slime with Sci Quest and enjoy “Dinosaurs” from the Space and Rocket Center  as part of the featured exhibits and activities in the Children’s Area that will entertain and delight your family.   New to the festival this year is LEGO EXPERIENCE TOUR 2011 which brings a highly entertaining, family-friendly experience that consists of multiple interactive experiences, including construction experience with thousands of lego bricks, the DUPLO Experience for children ages 26 and the Challenge Experience where guests can participate in timed challenges that will test creativity and building skills.

Throughout the day, an explosion of music and entertainment will be featured on the Spirit of America stage.  Ellie Claytor, Abrielle Mullins and the U.S. Army Materiel Command Four Star Jazz Orchestra will all perform on the Spirit of America Stage.  Sit down and enjoy some of the best talent found in the Tennessee Valley as you enjoy a variety of food and beverages from the vendors participating in this year’s event.

A highlight of the Spirit of America Festival for 2011 is the participation of  Boy Scouts from the Arrowhead District and their Boy Scout Celebration Area.   Scouts will be encamped near the Children’s Area, and will provide displays and hands-on demonstrations of  typical scouting activities.  Among the many hands-on activities for guests to experience are 2 liter bottle rockets, monkey bridge and hillbilly skis, peddle cars, religious emphasis booth, knot tying, ham radio, pinewood derby, branding station, rocket launch and a raingutter regatta.  Get your Scout passport stamped as you participate and enjoy the many displays that celebrate youth and the perpetuation of American traditions, skills and values. Scouts will also be playing an integral role in activities such as flag-raising ceremonies and the awards program.

It is critical to remind everyone why the festival was created in the first place-to honor heroes, both past, present and future.   A highlight of each Spirit of America Festival is the Awards Ceremony which recognizes outstanding service and sacrifice for country and fellow man.  The festival was created in 1967 during the height of the anti-war sentiment, when local citizens decided to support military personnel serving overseas and honor those who had lost their lives in battle.  In keeping with the patriotic theme,  an awards program  was developed and has resulted in three awards being given each year, the Audie Murphy Patriotism Award, the Barrett C. Shelton Freedom Award and the The Spirit of America Humanitarian Award.  This moving ceremony defines all that is good and true in our country, and is a “must” for families seeking to capture the true meaning of the day.  LtGen Frank Libutti will be the 2011 recipient of the Audie Murphy Patriotism Award for his exceptional and courageous leadership, selfless devotion to duty at great personal risk during the Vietnam War, and a lifetime of patriotic service to the nation.   The Barrett C.  Shelton Freedom Award will be presented to COL Terry A. Thomas for his lifetime of service, outstanding patriotism and military leadership during Operation Iraq Freedom.  The Spirit of America Humanitarian Award will be given to Joseph C. Bongiovanni for his community support and efforts to support and assist military veterans in the Tennessee Valley.  A new award,  The CSM John and Brenda Perry Award for Support to Military Families is being given for the first time in 2011 to CSM John and Brenda Perry for their dedicated service assisting military families whose members serve in our nation’s Armed Forces.    The Awards Ceremony is a fitting reminder that the sacrifices made to ensure our freedoms are not for someone else, it is personal, and is something that touches each of us!  As day moves to evening, the festival atmosphere is heightened, as the stage is set to display poise, intelligence, talent and character during the Miss Point Mallard Pageant.

Celebrating its 41sth year, the Miss Point Mallard Pageant is one of the longest running and most successful pageants within the Miss Alabama system.  It holds the distinction of producing more Top 10 contestants than any other state preliminary.  The pageant was most recently named as the Most Oustanding Pageant in the Miss Alabama system and its director, Barry Sublett, was named Director of the Year in June 2011 by Miss Alabama officials. The pageant is consistently recognized by the Miss Alabama Pageant for Most Prizes Awarded to participants and has also been named Best Open Preliminary.  “Open” means that any young woman between the ages of 17 and 24 who lives in or is a full-time student in Alabama can enter.  “Closed” preliminaries limit participation to a certain city, county or region.   In the late 1960’s, the Miss Point Mallard Scholarship Pageant was added to the Spirit of America Festival line-up.  The pageant is now known as the Miss Point Mallard Pageant and is one of the many preliminary pageants for the Miss America pageant.  The winner of the Miss Point Mallard pageant advances to the Miss Point Mallard pageant along with receiving a variety of scholarship opportunities, gift certificates and prizes.  The reigning Miss Point Mallard is Haley Bagwell, who was just named as 2nd runner-up to Miss Alabama.   In addition to the Miss Point Mallard Pageant, young women can gain pageant experience and exposure by competing in the Little Miss Point Mallard Pageant, open to girls ages 6-11, and the Miss Teen Point Mallard Pageant, featuring outstanding young women in the 13-17 age category.  For more information on the pageants or to learn more about entering, please contact Barry Sublett at 256-318-5945 or visit the festival website.

What would the 4th of July be without fireworks?  The fireworks display at the 2011 festival will be one that delights and dazzle as the night sky is lit up and embers reflect over the beautiful Tennessee River.  The fireworks theme will be “I Pledge Allegiance” and will be accompanied by a musical soundtrack that will make you smile and perhaps bring a tear to your eye, as we celebrate our pride in America, our love for the State of Alabama, and the special place that we call home-Decatur!

For more information on the 2011 Spirit of America Festival, please visit the festival website at or call the Decatur-Morgan County Convention and Visitors Bureau at 256-350-2028 or 800-524-6181.

2011 Humanitarian Award

June 11th, 2011 by admin Categories: News No Responses

The 2011 Spirit of America Humanitarian Award will be presented to

Joseph C. Bongiovanni

Joe BongiovanniThe old saying of “Once a Marine, always a Marine” holds true in the life of Joseph C. Bongiovanni.  Because of his contributions that have improved the life, health and welfare of area residents and veterans, Bongiovanni will be awarded the 2011 Spirit of America Humanitarian Award.

Born in Sicily,  Bongiovanni immigrated to the United States at the age of eleven.  Still a teenager, he joined the United State Marine Corps at the age of 19 in 1967 and served four years as a combat squad leader during the height of the Vietnam War.  For seven months he was stationed at the Leatherneck Square region of the Quang Tri Province, and in 1968, he
participated in the bitterly fought Battle of the Tet Offensive in January and the Battle of Dai Do in May.  This experience and service to his country has played a defining role in his mission and purpose in life.  When Bongiovanni returned home from the war, the public reception was not that due to an individual who had put his life on the line for his country.  He observed that, “The Vietnam War was not a popular war.  There were no parades or any fanfare when we came back.  I want to make sure that the same thing does not happen to our young men and women who are returning from places like Iraq and Afghanistan.  I want to make sure that they are recognized for their sacrifice and service.

Bongiovanni is known for his successful career as a North Alabama businessman in the automotive industry, presently serving as General Manager of Serra Toyota in Decatur.  However, even though his military uniform may be replaced with a business suit, he has never stopped serving his country and is especially dedicated to the plight of our nation’s armed forces and first responders.  In addition to his affiliation with the Marine Corps League, Third Marine Division Association, Operation Stand Down, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, and the American Legion; Bongiovanni has actively worked with the Semper Fi Community Task Force of North Alabama, and currently serves as its Chairman.  The Semper Fi Community Task Force was formed in 2006 and “is an organization composed of Marines, their families, and friends who have come together to continue to apply their core values of courage, honor and commitment to serve and protect our community.  We believe that the skills, leadership, esprit de corps and resourcefulness that the Marine Corps instills are a lifelong trust.  We chose to extend then to our community and fellow citizens so that all can continue to enjoy the freedoms, liberty and quality of life that we Americans hold dear.”  For Veterans Day 2011, Joe Bongiovanni is heading a program that will bring over 60 wounded warriors and their spouses to the North Alabama area for a week of activities honoring our troops.  For his dedication and service, Bongiovanni was honored in November 2010 as the North Alabama Veteran of the Year by the North Alabama Veterans and Fraternal Organizations Coalition.

Bongiovanni’s giving spirit extends deep in the community and he is a major supporter of the annual Marine Corps Toys for Tots program and many other charities.  He has served as an emcee for area patriotic programs, sponsored picnics for 2 busloads of Marines who visited Decatur several years ago, and has provided jobs for veterans.  Joe and his wife Denice have been married for over thirty years and have two sons, Christopher (26) and Jonathan (21).

Through the efforts of Joseph C. Bongiovanni, returning veterans will experience the respect, honor and appreciation that they deserve.  The uniform may be off, but Bongiovanni will always remain “Semper Fi.

2011 Award Recipient Press Conference

March 17th, 2011 by admin Categories: News, News & Events No Responses

2011 honorees for the The Audie Murphy Patriotism Award, The Barrett C. Shelton Freedom Award, and the Humanitarian Award will be announced at a press conference to take place at 2:00 PM on Tuesday, April 5, 2011 at the Council Chambers located on the first floor of Decatur City Hall.  The festival committee will also introduce a new award that will be given for support of military families.  The 2011 festival theme and a preview of activities to be featured at this year’s event will also be highlighted.

Date: Tuesday, April 5, 2011
Time: 2:00 PM
Location: Council Chambers-1st floor Decatur City Hall
402 Lee Street NE
Decatur, Alabama  35601

Susanna Bagwell is a Top 15 finalist at Miss Alabama’s Outstanding Teen Pageant

March 17th, 2011 by admin Categories: News No Responses

Congratulations to Susanna Bagwell, our reigning Miss Point Mallard Outstanding Teen, who recently competed in the Miss Alabama Outstanding Teen Pageant. This talented fifteen year old was a Top 15 finalist and won a $1,000 ballet scholarship. Jefferson County’s Outstanding Teen, Mi’a Callens of Birmingham, was the winner of the Miss Alabama Outstanding Teen title. She was a standout in the competition and is the first minority to win the teen title. We are proud of Susanna for representing the Miss Point Mallard Outstanding Teen pageant and the Spirit of America Festival with poise, character, intelligence and beauty!

2011 CSM John and Brenda Perry Support for Military Families Award Winner

February 17th, 2011 by admin Categories: News No Responses

The 2011 Spirit of America CSM John & Brenda Perry Support for Military Families Award will be presented to

CSM John & Brenda Perry

John and Brenda PerryCSM (Retired) John Perry and his wife, Brenda, have been helping soldiers and their families ever since 9/11. Immediately after 9/11, John’s unit commander told John to prepare his soldiers and their families of their Army Reserve unit for mobilization and deployment. At that time, Brenda was the Family Readiness Group Leader for the unit. Immediately, Brenda activated the Family Readiness Group support plan which prepares the families for mobilization while John prepared his soldiers. Brenda and her team met regularly with John and his commander giving status reports on the progress of the FRG team and the preparation of the unit’s families. Numerous soldiers from John’s unit were mobilized and deployed.  John, Brenda and her FRG team supported those families until the soldiers returned.

Shortly after, John and Brenda’s son’s unit was mobilized.  John and Brenda volunteered to be the FRG Leaders for their son’s unit. The company was part of the 926th Combat Engineer Battalion and was comprised of soldiers from Alpha Company in Decatur, Bravo Company in Birmingham and Charlie Company in Huntsville. Brenda and John provide support for over 140 families of the combined company. Together they coordinated the Farewell Ceremony, conducted numerous teleconferences, organized fund raisers and Blue Star Banner ceremonies. Upon the company’s return from a year in Afghanistan, John and Brenda organized the welcome home ceremonies both at Ft. Benning and back in Alabama. Together they kept the families informed through e-mail, phone calls and newsletters during the entire time. On occasion they helped provide groceries to families who were unable to make ends meet. At other times, they provided assistance with child care and supervision. They continued to support their son’s unit for several years and provided guidance to the new FRG leaders during the unit’s second deployment last year.

For the past seven years, John and Brenda have been part of the team to provide holiday cheer to the families of those young men and women in uniform and Department of Defense civilians deployed at Christmas.  Operation Christmas Bear started after 9/11 as a way to show community appreciation to young men and women in uniform and their families during the holidays.   The even provides a day of magical entertainment and a chance to visit with Santa and receive a Christmas bear. Brenda was one of the original team members and continues to support the program. John has been chairman of the event for three years and continues to support the program. John and Brenda have their entire family involved each year.

John and Brenda have worked with the City of Madison and other organizations on a program called Holiday Cheer Brigade. This program provides assistance to needy Army Reserve and National Guard soldiers in the North Alabama area and their families who are experiencing financial difficulties at Christmas.  Since the program started five years ago, the it  has help over 100 soldiers and their families to experience the magic of the season free of financial worries.

Upon John’s retirement, he received two State Resolutions for his outstanding record of public service to the nation and to the community over the span of almost four decades.

In 2008, John, Brenda and their son, Chad, were awarded the Family of the Year award by the North Alabama Veterans Coalition. The award was given for dedicated service to the military, for their tireless support of the military family and their continued involvement in numerous activities that benefit our young men and women in uniform and their families.

2011 Audie Murphy Patriotism Award Winner

February 17th, 2011 by admin Categories: News No Responses

The 2011 Spirit of America Audie Murphy Patriotism Award will be presented to

Lt. General Frank Libutti

Lt. General Frank LibuttiLieutenant General Frank Libutti is a retired United States Marine Corps Lieutenant General who also served as the head of the New York City Police Department’s Counter Terrorism Bureau, Deputy Police Commissioner, and oversaw the Department of Homeland Security’s intelligence operations as Undersecretary for Information Analysis and Infrastructure Protection. Libutti’s military career included time spent in Vietnam, Japan, Korea, Kenya and Somalia among assignments within the United States during which he oversaw more than 80,000 Marines.

As New York City’s deputy police commissioner, Libutti oversaw more than 300 people working in the Counter Terrorism Bureau, which aims to prevent and prepare for any possible terrorism attack. He was named to this post in January 2002 by Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly who planned to increase the number of detectives assigned to the Joint Terrorist Task Force and reorganize the police contingent assigned to the task force, which works with the FBI. In his role, Libutti was responsible for counterterrorism training, prevention and investigations and served as a liaison to state and federal agencies.

Libutti was nominated by President George W. Bush in 2003 to serve as the Undersecretary for information analysis and infrastructure protection at the Department of Homeland Security. He was the first person nominated for the new position in the then two-month-old Homeland Security Department. In addition to traditional counterterrorism and security measures, Libutti’s tenure included the launch of a cyber alert system that was part of the initiative to secure cyberspace as well as initiatives designed to protect stadiums and sporting event attendees.

At the time of his retirement from the U.S. Marine Corps, Lieutenant General Frank Libutti was the Commander, U.S. Marine Corps Forces Pacific/Commanding General, Fleet Marine Force, Pacific/Commander, U.S. Marine Corps Bases, Pacific headquartered at Camp H. M. Smith, Hawaii. He assumed command on June 22, 1999.

General Libutti is a native of Huntington, Long Island, New York. Following graduation from The Citadel, he entered the Marine Corps Officer Candidate Program in August 1966 and was commissioned a second lieutenant in October of that year. In March 1967, he was assigned to duty with the 1st Battalion, 9th Marines in Vietnam, where he served as an Infantry Platoon Commander.

Lieutenant General Libutti’s exploits during Operation Buffalo, which took place near Con Thien, Republic of Vietnam from July 1-14, 1967, are chronicled in a book titled “Operation Buffalo,” written by Keith W. Nolan. One incident worthy of mention that occurred during the engagement in which he received the Silver Star Medal is that on two separate occasions enemy hand grenades were thrown at him, bouncing off him, failing to explode.

On July 2, 1967, Libutti, then a second lieutenant, distinguished himself while serving as a platoon commander with the Marine Corps in the Republic of Vietnam. On that date, he was given the mission of reinforcing a beleaguered Marine company, which had sustained heavy casualties and was in danger of being overrun by a numerically superior North Vietnamese Army force.

Upon arrival, Libutti’s platoon assumed the point position, and while maneuvering forward, came under enemy small arms and automatic weapons fire. As his unit approached the besieged unit, the enemy commenced a vicious artillery and mortar attack. Although he was wounded during the barrage, Libutti ignored his painful injuries and assisted in placing casualties aboard tanks for evacuation. As the intensity of the attack increased, he sustained a second wound; however, he steadfastly continued to assist the wounded.

While his unit maneuvered to the landing zone, Libutti was wounded a third time. Disregarding his own safety, he continued to lead his platoon and only after he was assured that all casualties had received medical treatment and were evacuated did he submit to medical evacuation. For his courage, superb leadership and selfless devotion to duty at great personal risk, Libutti received the Silver Star Medal for conspicuous gallantry and three awards of the Purple Heart Medal for wounds received in action.

In 1968, he returned to Quantico for duty at the Officer Candidates School. During this tour, he served consecutively as Chief Instructor, Tactics Section; Commanding Officer, and Branch Head, Academic Section. He was promoted to captain in November 1969. Upon completion of his duties at Quantico, he remained there to attend the Amphibious Warfare School.

General Libutti transferred to Amphibious Squadron THREE, San Diego, California, in 1972, for duty as Squadron Combat Cargo Officer. Upon completion of a two-year tour there, he was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 2d Marines, 2d Marine Division, Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, as an Infantry Company Commander for 14 months, followed by staff positions at the Battalion Headquarters. There, he served as the Logistics Officer and later as the Operations Officer.

Promoted to major in May 1977, General Libutti was reassigned as the Executive Officer, Marine Barracks, Naples, Italy. He returned from overseas in August 1980 to attend the Command and Staff College at Quantico. Following graduation, he was transferred to Headquarters Marine Corps, Washington, D.C., for duty as the Head of the Career Management Section, Manpower Department. In May 1982, he was promoted to lieutenant colonel and reassigned as the Assistant Secretary of the General Staff for the Office of the Assistant Commandant and Chief of Staff, where he served through May 1983. He was reassigned in June 1983 as the Senior Marine Aide to the Commandant of the Marine Corps.

From August 1985 until June 1986, General Libutti attended the National War College, Washington, D.C. Following graduation, he was assigned as the Executive Officer, 1st Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, Camp Pendleton, California. General Libutti was reassigned as the Commanding Officer of 1st Reconnaissance Battalion, where he remained in command until October 1987, when he was designated as the Commanding Officer, Contingency MAGTF 1-88 and promoted to colonel.

Returning to Camp Pendleton in May 1988, General Libutti served as the Assistant Chief of Staff, Intelligence, 1st Marine Division. He assumed command of the 11th MEU in August 1988 and remained in command until July 1990. The following month, General Libutti was reassigned to the Office of the Chairman, Joint Chief of Staff, for duty as the Marine Corps Member of the Chairman’s Staff Group. While serving in this capacity, he was selected in December for promotion to brigadier general and was promoted to that grade on March 23, 1992. General Libutti was then assigned as the Commander, Forward Headquarters Element/Inspector General of the United States Central Command, MacDill AFB, Fla., on July 10, 1992. On August 18, 1992, he was designated Commanding General, Joint Task Force Provide Relief (emergency airlift of food to Somalia and Kenya), a position he held until November 1992, at which time he resumed his duties in Tampa.

He was promoted to major general and assumed duties as Commanding General, 1st Marine Division on July 22, 1994. He served as the Division Commander until June 7, 1996. During his last assignment, he served as the Commanding General, III Marine Expeditionary Force/Commander, Marine Corps Bases Japan until June 8, 1999.

General Libutti received the Defense Distinguished Service Medal while serving as the Assistant Chief of Staff C/J-5, United Nations Command, Combined Forces Command, United States Forces Korea and as Commander, Marine Forces Korea. He held this position from June 20, 1996 until July 20, 1997. He was promoted to his current rank of Lieutenant General on July 10, 1997.

General Libutti’s personal decorations include: Defense Distinguished Service Medal (first award), the Silver Star Medal; Defense Superior Service Medal with two bronze oak leaf clusters; Legion of Merit with gold star; Purple Heart with two gold stars; Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal; Republic of Korea Chonsu Medal: and the Combat Action Ribbon. General Libutti was also presented with the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold and Silver Star, by the Emperor of Japan for service dedicated to the security of Japan and the mutual cooperation between Japan and the United States.