LAKE PARK —
Moments after presenting American flags to five World War II-era veterans, Pastor Wayne Anthony turned his attention to the dozens of teenagers seated in the pews of Lake Park United Methodist Church.
It may be difficult to imagine these veterans, with their white hair, balding heads, slow movements, stooped shoulders, 70 years ago, when they were as young as many of the teens sitting in the church.
“But they responded to a call,” Anthony said. “Dec. 8, 1941 was the most frightening day in the world’s history. ... There was not a ship left in the Pacific to defend against an invasion from Japan. ... Great Britain was on the verge of collapse with little left to stop the Nazis.
“They put out a call to young people, just like a lot of you, and asked them to step forward and defend freedom and protect liberty around the world.”
Seventeen million of them put on uniforms. They sacrificed. They died. Wayne Anthony paused often speaking these words. “They did all of this for the values you and I enjoy today.”
Anthony turned back to the veterans, spoke more words, and concluded by telling them, “You have a home in the House of Heroes.”
This week, 160 teens and 40 adult
volunteers answered the call to help
these five veterans. Following hours of
coordination, the volunteers spent Tuesday repairing broken places, painting, and doing other work at the veterans’ residences in south Lowndes and Echols counties.
They performed the work as part of the House of Heroes. This project is dedicated to repaying veterans’ service by helping them with the maintenance of their homes. Work which the veterans can no longer effectively perform due to age, disability or lack of finances. It is dedicated to helping surviving veterans from the nation’s wars.
In 1999, House of Heroes started in Columbus, Ga. Anthony, who is the organization’s founder and president, shared the story of raising funds for the World War II memorial in Washington, D.C. During this drive, several older veterans said of the memorial fundraiser: “Too little, too late,” Anthony said. These veterans had saved the world but had reached an age when they needed help caring for their houses.
House of Heroes was born. In the past several years, House of Heroes has helped veterans in Columbus and Philadelphia; Plano, Texas, and Charlotte, N.C.; Phoenix, Ariz., and Nashville, Tenn.; and several communities across Georgia, including Valdosta as of last year.
In 2012, House of Heroes helped repair one Valdosta-area house belonging to World War II veteran Sgt. Ormond Rolfe, said Jim Bracewell, area HOH board member. Though confined to a gurney, Rolfe attended the ceremony Tuesday. For this, the second, year, House of Heroes was able to help five veterans. Tim Oliver, a HOH board member, shared their histories.
— Petty Officer Velma R. Baxley was 12 years old when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. During 1941-45, she helped the war effort while attending school. In 1952, at the age of 23, she joined the Navy as a radio operator and communications specialist, serving during the Korean War. Her late husband, John Baxley, also served in the Navy. In 1957, they moved to Lake Park. She taught private music lessons. The Baxleys had no children but were active in the community.
— In 1945, Army Pfc. William C. Crook was preparing for the invasion of Japan. “The Army assembled an invasion force of 5 million soldiers and expected 2 million of them to be killed while invading ‘Fortress Japan,’” according to Crook’s biography. The dropping of two atomic bombs caused the Japanese to surrender without the invasion ever taking place. Crook married wife Anita. They moved to Valdosta in the early 1950s and opened the Bill Crook Insurance Agency. The Crooks have four children and six grandchildren.
— Lt. Col. Robert Cribley joined the Navy in 1944. He served as a fighter pilot in World War II and Korea. “After 22 years, in the Navy, he transferred to the Air Force and flew the B-52, B-27, and major bombing missions in Vietnam,” according to his bio. Following the Air Force, he retired with distinction earning numerous commendation medals including National Defense, WWII Asia Pacific, WWII Europe Africa, WWII Victory, UN Korea Service, Armed Forces Reserve, Air Force Longevity with three oak-leaf clusters, American Campaign, and Korea Service.”
He married Roselle Bartlett on June 25, 1946, and the day of the House of Heroes project marked their 67th wedding anniversary. They have five daughters and 10 grandchildren. Due to illness, Robert Cribley was unable to attend the church ceremony; Roselle Cribley did attend. Prior to the service, she hosted a lunch at her newly refurbished house. She lined their driveway with approximately 30 American flags. Each flag honored a family member who served in a past war: At least one in the American Revolution, two in the Civil War, five in World War I, five in World War II, four in Vietnam, six in Desert Storm, six in Iraq and Afghanistan.
— Lt. Cmdr. George Eriks became interested in flying as a youth. In 1942, he joined the Navy to become a pilot in the war’s Pacific Theatre. “During the early years of the war, he flew submarine reconnaissance and was directly involved in the Battles of Guadalcanal, Admiralty Island, Midway, and Iwo Jima,” according to his bio. “During the bombing of Japan, he flew fighter escort engaged in air-to-air combat with Imperial fighters.” These missions included escorting and defending the Enola Gay as it carried the atomic bomb dropped at Hiroshima. Eriks received 11 medals for his service, including Asiatic Pacific, American Theatre, Victory Medal WWII.
He met wife Anna Mae in 1934 and they married in 1943. He worked as a plant foreman for U.S. Steel in Gary, Ind., before moving to Echols County. The Eriks have three children, including son Brad who served two tours in Vietnam, and 18 grandchildren.
— Robert Cork followed high school by joining the Army. He served in World War II and the Korean War. During World War II, Cork stayed stateside to guard German prisoners of war. He married wife Anne in 1951, the same year when the couple arrived in Valdosta. Robert Cork has served as a Valdosta attorney for more than 60 years. The Corks have four children and three grandchildren.
On Tuesday morning, the students arrived at these veterans’ homes. They were ready to work. At one residence, for example, the students were assigned to level the driveway, fix a fence, make the shower handicap accessible, fix boards on the porch, make the handicap ramp on the porch less slippery, rebuild the chicken pen, pressure-wash the house, pour top for grease trap, put globes on lights, replace siding, as well as do yardwork, dust, box items for garbage in each room, clean windows, etc.
Organizers hope to make House of Heroes a regular event in South Georgia. Area HOH members said the project will continue in the Valdosta area even though Wayne Anthony has been reassigned from Lake Park United Methodist Church to a UMC location in Macon.
As part of each HOH project, veterans are presented with an American flag that has flown over the Capitol. As much as the repairs represent a small service of gratitude for the veterans’ service and sacrifices, so does the flag.
Presenting the flags, Anthony looked to the veterans. “On behalf of the Congress of the United States / And a grateful nation / This gift to you /For your gift to us.”
Call Misty Williams, House of Heroes: South Georgia Chapter executive assistant, (229) 559-7688; or email email@example.com; or visit www.houseofheroes.org