By Callie Hietala
At the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, about 100 people gathered in the auditorium of the HJDB Event Center in Bassett to honor and celebrate local veterans at the 73rd annual Veterans Day Service.
Marine Corps veteran Walter Sheppard was awarded Veteran of the Year and Army veteran Curtis Millner, Sr. was selected as the 2021 Outstanding Military Veteran.
Attendees were greeted by Bassett High School’s Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) students, who also presented the colors and lead the pledge of allegiance to open the ceremony.
W.C. Fowlkes, speaker, said there often is confusion between Veteran’s Day and Memorial Day.
“If you have someone who is a veteran today, at some point we will be memorializing them as well. We never want to forget them for what they did for us, their country, their family, and their God.”
However, he added, Memorial Day is for remembering those who are lost, while on Veteran’s Day those honored “are still with us, and they can be here for us to be able to thank them for their deeds. Memorial Day, we’re still talking to them in our heart.”
The U.S. Army National Guard 29th Infantry Band performed service songs from each branch of military service—Coast Guard, Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps, and Army. Veterans of each branch stood and saluted as their song was played.
This year’s guest speaker, Dr. G.H. Vaughan, Jr., of McCabe Memorial Baptist Church in Martinsville, said, “I just simply say, ‘thank you.’”
Adding that his father was a military police officer in Germany during the Korean War, he said “you are the folks who should be talking today. Your sacrifice and your service has provided for us all of the gifts that we participate in and that we share.”
Referencing a story in 1 Chronicles, Vaughan said that Israel was amid a civil conflict and David was assembling a group of veterans, among them the sons of Issachar, to unify the kingdom and bring an end to the conflict. The attributes of the sons of Issachar embodied the same values as those evident in veterans today: Integrity, honesty, and respect.
“We need for you to lead on,” Vaughan said. “You have led us. We need for you to continue to lead on, in your homes and in your organizations and in your communities and in your churches. Be proactive. Lead on.”
David Kipfinger, an Army veteran and Post Commander of the local Veteran Service Organization (VSO), read out the names of award recipients since inception of the award in 1992. He then presented this year’s award to Sheppard.
Kipfinger said Sheppard graduated from Martinsville High School in 1965 and entered the Marine Corps in March 1966, where he served two years of active duty and four years in the reserves.
During his basic training at Parris Island, he excelled on the rifle range, outshooting the instructor by four points and earning an award for outstanding marksman in his platoon. He went to Camp Geiger for advanced infantry training then on to mechanic school in North Carolina, where he finished at the top of his class and was promoted to Private First Class. In Cherry Point, N.C., he was assigned to the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing as a mechanic, and later specialized in hydraulics.
After his release from active duty as a Lance Corporal in March 1968, Kipfinger said Sheppard “returned home with a strong desire to serve his country, his community, and his church.” He served as a Marine Corps reservist for another four years and was honorably discharged March 22, 1972. He joined the Collinsville Jaycees and helped raise $250,000 to build tennis courts and develop the Collinsville Jaycee Park, He also has been active with the Toys for Tots program since 1995.
Sheppard helped organize the Marine Corps League of Martinsville and Henry County, which received its charter in 1995, and currently serves as the league’s commandant. In 1997, he received the Distinguished Service Award from the Marine Corps League State Department for meritorious service and was named Marine of the Year in 2011. He currently serves as chaplain for the Honor Guard of Martinsville and Henry County.
Sheppard created a Veteran’s Museum, The Victory Room, in the basement of the Bible Baptist Church, of which he is a member. He previously received Martinsville and Henry County’s Outstanding Military Veteran Award.
Sheppard said being chosen by his peers for the award was a distinct honor.
“All of the accomplishments I’ve made would have been totally impossible, I couldn’t have done any of it, without a supporting wife. This is for you,” he said.
Henry County Board of Supervisors Vice Chairman Debra Buchanan and Reed Creek District supervisor Tommy Slaughter, as well as Martinsville Mayor Kathy Lawson presented the Outstanding Military Veteran award to Millner.
Buchanan said the award, which was created by the supervisors in 2009 and expanded to include Martinsville in 2013, “goes to the nominee judged by the selection committee who best represents what service to our country and the community means.”
She said that Millner began his military career as an enlisted soldier in the Army where he held numerous positions, including Mechanic Helper and Battalion Maintenance Officer.
“Through his tireless dedication, he climbed through the ranks and retired as Chief Warrant Officer 3. Notably, during his time serving in Vietnam, he served as the Non-Commissioned Officer in charge of Operation Keystone, responsible for the scheduling and preparation of ordinance and engineer equipment turn-in at Cam Ranh Bay,” she said.
Millner’s military decorations and awards include the Army Service Ribbon, the Overseas Service Ribbon, the Vietnam Campaign Medal, the Vietnam Service Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, the Mechanics Badge and Bar, the Meritorious Unit Commendation, four Good Conduct Medals, the Vietnam Cross of Gallantry with Palm, the Army Commendation Medal, the Humanitarian Service Medal, the NCO Professional Development Ribbon, and the Legion of Merit.
Buchanan said Millner previously served as senior Army instructor for Henry County Public Schools’ JROTC, and “passed down the values of citizenship, duty, and responsibility to the next generation.”
Millner was previously selected as Veteran of the Year in 2009.
“This is truly a surprise,” Millner said. He thanked Jesus “for allowing me to do this,” and his wife for sharing him with his community, state, and nation. “I thank each and every one of you and I encourage those that have not, to get involved. God is not through with us yet,” he said.