It could have been the Fourth of July with American flags, red, white & blue bunting, speeches, and ballgames, but the mood was more somber at the Sentinels of Freedom Gwinnett fourth annual All Services Softball Tournament. Four teams representing the Army, Navy, Marines and Air Force played in the tournament at Bunten Road Park in Duluth following a program memoralizing veterans Saturday (May 28) morning.
Tim Thornberry, president of Sentinels of Freedom Gwinnett, welcomed ball players and observers to the Memorial Day Weekend event. District 1 Gwinnett County Commissioner Shirley Lasseter introduced the keynote speaker Seventh District U.S. Rep. Rob Woodall (R-GA).
Duluth Mayor Nancy Harris commended the Sentinels of Freedom Gwinnett for its commitment to help wounded veterans overcome the challenges of returning to civilian life. The organization is assisting Dacula veteran Jeremy Wilczek, a Silver Star recipient, and his family. The Sentinels provided a four-year life scholarship to Wilczek, who was wounded in Iraq during his third tour of duty. Wilczek, his wife Christina, and their three sons Jeremiah, Isaiah and Elijah attended the event.
Harris expressed appreciation to Lasseter for starting many of the patriotic traditions as mayor that continue in the city.
“Congressman, we truly, truly appreciate what you do for us, and especially for the veterans,” Lasseter said in her introduction. “We know where your heart is there, we know you’ve given a lot, and you work with us.”
Lassester presented the Congressman with a pin. “We’d like to give you a pin for Sentinels for Freedom for your support and your dedication to all veterans,” she said. “We really appreciate everything you’ve done for Jeremy and his family.”
“Memorial Day is always one of those bittersweet days for me,” said Woodall. “Veterans Day, the 11th day of the 11 month, that’s one I can get excited about. I can get excited about that because folks put on the uniforms they (wore when they) went to offer their services to defend the freedoms that I hold so dear. Then they came back home to their husbands and their wives and their kids and their grandkids. Memorial Day, of course, we’re celebrating and remembering those folks who put on the uniforms, went to do those things that only a few agree to do, and they didn’t come home. Instead, they’ve gone on ahead of us to the Promised Land and wait there and wait there for us.”
Woodall also spoke at Duluth’s Memorial Day service Saturday evening on the Town Green.
Members of the Duluth High School Naval Jr. ROTC presented the U.S. Flag., and Julia Hall sang the National Anthem. Thornberry led a moment of silence to honor veterans and, in particular, Ken Schroeder, a softball tournament participant who died in January. Al Brown played a mournful TAPS.
The program also included remarks by Commander Bob Carpenter of Chattahoochee Post 251 in Duluth and a concluding Prayer by American Legion Post 251 Chaplain Robert Cash.
The Navy team won the tournament.