Locals gathered in the city park Monday to thank Pierce County’s veterans for answering the call to protect community and country.

“I salute all of our veterans. You are my heroes and my medal of honor recipients.”

Tony Batten, former Blackshear Mayor, businessman and U.S. Navy Vietnam veteran, paid that homage to all veterans — living and deceased — during Monday’s annual Veterans Day Ceremony. A very large crowd was present for the ceremony, which took place at Blackshear City Park under sunny and blue skies and pleasant weather. American Legion Post #181 annually hosts the ceremony.

Batten, a life-long Pierce Countian delivered a folksy, humorous address that also reflected soberly and somberly to those who gave their lives in service to their country.

Batten recounted his service in Vietnam serving as a young sailor on board the U.S.S. Montrose and later on the U.S.S. New.  

Batten recalled he was inspired by a neighbor who was a sailor who served in World War II.

“He gave me his sailor hat and I decided then to be in the Navy. I had never been any further from home than Fernandina when I left Blackshear for Vietnam,” said Batten. “There were lots of us who served our country, on the seas and in the deltas there. I served there with my brothers-in-arms and learned from it and grew from it.”

Batten related experiences he had during the service, including both tales of friendship and some close calls.

The Pierce County High School Sound of Silver Band performed musical tributes including “The Start Spangled Banner”, “You’re A Grand Old Flag” and “Armed Forces Medley”.

Veterans were recognized during the “Medley” featuring the theme songs for each military branch. Veterans in attendance were invited to stand before the crowd as their branch was called. Will Martinez and Mikayla Cox performed a trumpet solo of “Taps.”

Ken Piestrak, American Legion Post 181 Commander, gave the welcome.

Blackshear Mayor Kevin Grissom gave greetings on behalf of the city.

Legion Post Chaplain Irvin Rozier provided the invocation and benediction, with Troy Mattox, Vietnam veteran, former county chairman and retired radio station owner, serving as emcee. Mattox also led the pledge of allegiance and welcomed local officials to the event.

Officials present included Sheriff Ramsey Bennett, Clerk of Court Thomas Sauls, County Chairman Neal Bennett, First district commissioner Harold Rozier Jr., School superintendent Dr. Kevin Smith, Blackshear City Councilman Shawn Godwin and Councilmember-elect Linda Dennison.