Victory Baptist service to honor veterans everywhere
By Melanie Tucker | (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Thirteen years, nine months and 27 days — Jim Loftis, a disabled veteran who served this country in the name of freedom, has those years permanently etched in his brain.
The young man of 18 joined the U.S. Army in 1959 and would be sent to Korea, Germany and Vietnam before his duty to his country was complete, in 1973. He was in Berlin when the Wall went up. He came home years later with damaged legs, scarred face and injured left eye.
Fred Newman, of Maryville, served in the U.S. Army, too. His length of service ran from August 1966 to August of 1968. Like Loftis, he spent time in Vietnam and walked around with shrapnel in his knee for a year, the result of a rocket explosion. He now suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Newman has lived in Maryville his entire life. He is a 1965 graduate of Everett High School.
Both are members of Victory Baptist Church in Maryville. They are also two of the many reasons this church will be doing church a little differently this Sunday.
Saluting those who serve
Pastor Steve Craft and his congregation have put together a special tribute to the men and women like Newman and Loftis. Instead of the usual sermon, Craft and the Victory Baptist flock will sing patriotic songs, present the Colors, recognize Victory’s veterans and hear a message from Congressman John J. Duncan Jr., who served in the U.S. Army National Guard for 17 years. He was elected to Congress in 1988. In attendance will be state Sen. Doug Overbey, state Rep. Bob Ramsey, Blount County Mayor Ed Mitchell and stat Rep. Art Swann. The video entitled “Angel Flight” that shows the planes that bring our deceased heroes home to American soil, will be shown.
Craft has been pastor at Victory for 18 months. He’s done a similar tribute in years past.
“I have done this for years as a pastor because I believe what these men and women do is directly related to what I do,” he said. “They have protected freedom of religion which allows me to preach.”
The special Sunday service is an example of what Craft said is his church’s goal — to be community-oriented. He encourages anyone who wants to be part of this day of gratitude to attend. There will be a cookout following the service for guests, veterans and their families.
In three weeks, Victory will put even more emphasis on that community focus. This day will be called Engage Sunday and on it, church members will be meeting at church to then leave and branch out on community projects. Last year, they cleaned a section of the greenway near Pearson Springs Park.
July 4 is just days away, an official holiday meant to be a celebration of our freedoms and recognition of the price so many have paid. Craft said to honor our veterans is the right thing to do, and we shouldn’t wait for a specific day of the year to show our appreciation.
Young people especially should take part, the pastor said. “This is way to remind them that many of the things they enjoy are because of these men and women,” Craft said. “And secondly, a reminder to be intentional in saying thank you. Every generation needs to learn how to say thank you. We are willing to take an entire Sunday to do just that.”
The church staff has gathered up photographs of its veterans, then and now, and have compiled them into a video presentation. There are men and women representing all branches of service. They served in Korea, Vietnam and beyond. All will be celebrated on Sunday.
Newman and Loftis both said they are appreciative to their church for putting this together.
“As free as we are today, it’s these men and women who are responsible,” Newman said. “It will be a tremendous celebration.”
In attendance on Sunday will be Loftis’ grandchildren. He lost contact with his first wife and their 4-year-old son after he came home from Vietnam. It wasn’t until 40 years later that Loftis got a call from his son Michael, who had finally tracked him down. Loftis’ wife had divorced him and left with the child.
That call came on March 8, 2007, another day Loftis will never forget. Son and father now live in Maryville. “It was the greatest feeling you can ever have,” Jim said of the long-awaited reunion. His son will be out of town on Sunday and unable to attend the veterans’ tribute.
Newman and Loftis do share some of their experiences during wartime with the rest of us, but there are so many more memories they can’t bear to bring back. Loftis, who is a retired minister, said he feels blessed to have survived and equally blessed to have his family. He knows others never had the chance.
“There are a lot of men who did a lot more than I did,” he said. “If anybody needs to be recognized, its’s the ones who didn’t get to come home.”