Alabama vets honored in 'patriot parades' by Honored Legacies for Veterans
By CASSIE KUHN | The Decatur Daily | Published: July 3, 2020
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DECATUR, Ala. (Tribune News Service) — Before World War II veteran John Kuhn of Decatur died last year at the age of 95, he asked Chris Batte, then a coordinator for the Alabama chapter of veterans’ organization Forever Young, to ensure that his story was told.
The realization that many veterans shared Kuhn’s desire to maintain their legacy led Batte and Elaine Oaks to leave Forever Young and create their own non-profit, Honored Legacies for Veterans, in January. “Our mission is to honor senior veterans and their communities,” Batte said.
Honored Legacies is based in Madison and serves between 85 and 90 veterans in Morgan, Madison, Blount and Lawrence counties.
Batte said the organization uses its funds to take veterans to honorary dinners, meetings and on trips. However, when the coronavirus pandemic put a halt to in-person events, Batte and Oaks began brainstorming ways to celebrate senior veterans without putting them at risk for exposure to COVID-19.
“We were hearing from them that they’re lonely, and they missed us, and we felt like we wanted to reach out to them in whatever way we possibly could,” Batte said. “We decided that we would start doing the patriot parades.”
Volunteers and veterans alike participate in the patriot parades, where a procession of cars and motorcycles adorned with American flags passes by veterans’ homes. Batte said that those who have already been honored in patriot parades will sometimes join the procession for other veterans.
Batte said the parades started about six weeks ago, and will continue for another few weeks until the procession reaches each veteran of the 85 to 90 who are a part of Honored Legacies. “We’ve had as many as 35 to 40 vehicles at one time,” she said.
Holly McDonald’s grandfather Major Wooten is a 103-year-old World War II veteran and a part of Honored Legacies. McDonald attributes Wooten’s centenarian status in part to Honored Legacies and organizations like it. She said Honored Legacies has added “love, camaraderie and companionship” to her grandfather’s life.
“We almost lost him during the COVID thing because of loneliness and loss of connection. He was put in the hospital for almost a week and they eventually put him in ICU and his system started shutting down, but we rallied the group together and the community in the parking lot,” McDonald said. “We got him out of hospice the next day to pass at home and just getting out and loved on by our members. He made a quick turn and he is a living and breathing miracle today.”
McDonald said Wooten served in Paris during World War II. Wooten was drafted because of his trade as a U.S. Steel employee, and he restored railroad cars that had been damaged during the war.
Batte said veterans are appreciative of the efforts made to honor them through patriot parades. “We’ve got emails and voicemail messages of how much it meant to them, and we’ve had wives call and say, ‘My husband’s been so down and this just really lifted him up,’ and I think lives are really being changed,” she said. “It just shows them how much they’re loved and appreciated.”
One veteran said, “Absolutely honored by the drive-by. Pass along my thanks to the participants! I would do it again because of people like you and those who are with you,” in a text exchange posted to the organization’s Facebook page. Another wrote, “Thank you very much for you organizing this drive-through! I had goosebumps! It makes a veteran feel that someone cares. Again I appreciate it. Thank you.”
In addition to patriot parades, Honored Legacies is planning an event for its members on July 25.
“They’re lonely, they’re very very lonely and we hear from all of them that they cannot wait to get back together,” Batte said, adding that the event will be held in a more than 20,000-square-foot building in Athens so the veterans and volunteers can maintain social distance.
Batte said a key goal of Honored Legacies is to create a website focused on telling the stories of veterans. She said the website will include lesson plans for teachers. “As a teacher, I know that I teach from the book,” she said, adding that it can be time-consuming for teachers to put cohesive lesson plans together when the content isn’t coming straight from a textbook. Batte said the website will be simple to use and will bring “living primary resources” to teachers and students.
Erin Coggins, a volunteer at Honored Legacies, is writing the lesson plans that will accompany the website.
"It brings history to life, and for the veterans, what better honor to know that from here on out, school-children are going to learn what you did mattered," Coggins said.
For more information about Honored Legacies for Veterans, visit facebook.com/honoredlegacies.