The Heritage Veterans Memorial Plaza at the Orange First Church of the Nazarene is a tribute to military veterans in the region.  It is a simple monument with colors of white and black. The monument includes a sculpture of a kneeling soldier praying before the a wall with “Honoring All Who Sacrificed For Our Freedom” engraved.

The memorial plaza honors veterans of all branches of the military service, from all wars. For the fifth year the plaza, a Memorial Day service was held as a tribute to all veterans, active, retired, discharged, living and deceased.

After a welcome from the Rev. Bruce McGraw, worship pastor of First Church of the Nazarene, and a prayer by Dr. George Blake, the president of the Southeast Texas Veterans Service, the colors were posted by the Southeast Texas Veterans Service Group Color Guard.

The flag was the focal point of the posting of the colors. The only sounds throughout the posting were the tapping sounds from the soles of the guards’ boots on the concrete as they marched. The audience watched the posting in silence.

The Pledge of Allegiance was followed by the Harmony Express leading the audience of more than two hundred in the Star Spangled Banner.

Following the pledge, State Rep. Mike Hamilton gave some remarks and his thanks for the veterans and their service to our country. Hamilton was followed by Sandra Womack of the Southeast Texas Patriot Guard Riders.

Before the opening of the memorial program, the Patriot Guard Riders had driven to the plaza on with about 30 motorcycles and one truck. All members had American flags and t flying from the back of their bikes and from the back of the truck, along with the Patriot Guard Riders triangular yellow flag with the blue lettering and white stars. Some riders were veterans and had the flag of their branch of the service flying as well. All of the bikes were shining in the sun from the highly polished finishes on them. The riders were wearing their “Colors”, patches of the PGR, or a branch of the service, a patriotic statement, or a patch with some humor as evidenced by Womack’s decal on her helmet that read “Hairdo by Helmet”.

Womack said the PGR was formed in 2004 when a group of demonstrators from a non-denominational church began attending the funeral services of military members who died in Iraq or Afghanistan. Some men took it upon themselves to quietly put themselves between the demonstrators and the families of the deceased. The families were grateful the men had not allowed the demonstrators to interrupt the funerals as they had planned to do. Most of the men rode motorcycles and the idea of escorting soldiers began.

The PGR of Southeast Texas currently has 121 members. They escort, when requested by the family, the deceased military. They have met the bodies of the fallen at airports and escorted them to the place of the funeral. The guard returns to escort the funeral.
Their happy missions are when they are asked to escort a living soldier to his home either for leave or at the end of his service.

They perform the missions at their own cost. When meeting a returning soldier they line up in military fashion for review by the soldier. They then form the escort of a double row of gleaming motorcycles and with flags flying they go down the highway with a police escort clearing traffic. Returning soldiers have a great appreciation for the service of the PGR. The families of the fallen soldiers are grateful for the respect and honor given to their lost family member. The PGR escort is an impressive sight.

The first female soldier from Southeast Texas to be killed in combat was Specialist Kamisha Jane Block from Vidor. At the Memorial Day tribute on Sunday, her parents, Jerry and Jane Block were presented with a replica of the kneeling soldier statue at the plaza.

The Orange Community Band provided music as the tents filled prior to the start of the memorial tribute. The band played the song of each branch of the military. As the song for the branch was played, members of that branch, veterans or members on active duty were asked to stand. There were an impressive number of veterans in attendance.

The audience was invited to participate in the singing of a few patriotic songs, led by McGraw and accompanied by the band.

Orange native Bill Harrison, the author of “Six Days on a Raft,” was the keynote speaker. Harrison gave an account of his ship being sunk in a typhoon off the coast of Okinawa in September 1945 as World War II ended. Harrison and eight other men were on a life raft. Some of the men began to die from drinking salt water. Harrison said only his strong faith in God allowed him to remain strong enough to survive. Five of the men died in those six days.

“We prayed every day that God would save us. One day we saw three Corsairs (fighter aircraft); we did not think that they had seen us but one turned our way. That Corsair was the most beautiful thing that I had ever seen.” The four survivors were rescued, taken aboard a hospital ship and returned to the U.S. when they were well enough.

Harrison attributes his survival to the strong faith that his mother had instilled in him. He made a commitment to God and has kept his part of the commitment. As he shares his story of his ordeal he also gives the message that faith in God is the most important part of his life.

The Harmony Exporters returned to sing “God Bless America.” This was followed by a three-volley salute by the rifles of the Southeast Texas Service Group. Joyce Savage of the group played “Taps”, and the colors were retired by the color guard.

“Driftwood”, a quartet of the Harmony Exporters sang “God Bless the USA”.

The closing prayer was given by Dr. Duane Srader, superintendent of the South Texas Church of the Nazarene, and the service of tribute was over.

As the audience left the Community Band played a few more songs. Some of the audience went to the plaza for a closer look at its displays. A few friends visited and a few new friends were made.