By: Ali Elizabeth Turner
We were just coming off of a most memorable set of Veterans’ Day celebrations in Athens-Limestone County, and Mayor Marks had much to say about his gratitude for all the work that had gone into the various events. “It was a great day,” he said, and the simplicity of his statement said it all. He especially enjoyed the Athens Middle School and Athens High School events. “You could tell it meant something to them (the students),” he said. There was a particularly descriptive phrase he used: “They were respectful.” Respect isn’t something that shows up as readily these days as it did when we were young, and when it does, it’s like a drink of cold water in a hot desert.
The mayor went on to say that he especially enjoyed the color guard and the JROTC. “It brings all the things about service, camaraderie the ‘band of brothers’ together,” he said. He then added, “That’s what you hope you’ll pass on.”
Mayor Ronnie moved on to the topic of the City of Athens finishing out the fiscal year in the black, which is always a good thing. That being said, there were several things to still figure out. “We need to get a firetruck,” he said. City Council also has to determine how it is going to distribute funds to all of the totally worthy agencies in the community. “There are more requests than we have money for, and they are worthwhile requests,” he said. I certainly don’t envy him or the City Council in trying to figure that out.
The mayor went on to tell me that during the football game this weekend, he was reminded of both the military service as well as the raw courage of a Steelers NFL great and wounded warrior by the name of Rocky Bleier by something that had been shown on the network. Rocky Bleier and Mayor Ronnie were in Chu Lai, Vietnam at the same time. They have actually met at an event where Rocky was speaking and talked at length about their shared experiences fighting for our country.
However, what Mayor Ronnie told me next just made me cringe at the thought of the kind of pain Rocky endured after he was wounded in Chu Lai. A grenade had exploded, wounding Rocky seriously enough to be airlifted to a hospital in Japan, where he stayed for 6 weeks. While in Tokyo, a guy who had lost both legs and one of his arms was the one who encouraged Rocky the most, although the guy had no idea just how much Rocky had been struggling. After extensive rehab and returning to the States, Rocky decided to try to return to the Steelers, and the amount of pain that he was in caused his coaches to put him on the injured reserve list, with little hope of him ever actually playing again. Practice after practice he showed up and played his heart out while in agony, but the idea of never playing again was far more painful than what he was experiencing in his body.
Finally, it was discovered that there was still a piece of shrapnel in Rocky’s foot, and he had actually been attempting to play football with that inside of him! He had surgery, it was removed, and he went on to help the Steelers win the Super Bowl several times. Rocky is a NFL Hall of Fame inductee and a motivational speaker. He also spends a great deal of his time looking out for veterans, encouraging them as he was once encouraged when he needed it most. “He shows the triumph of the spirit,” said the mayor. “Indeed, he does,” I marveled. We could have talked all day about our veterans, but once again it was “that time,” the time when we pray, and then Ronnie got ready to roll.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner