ROBERTSDALE, Alabama — The City of Robertsdale renewed a longstanding Memorial Day tradition on Monday, May 31, presenting Bibles to 14 veterans during a ceremony held at Honeybee Park.
While Bibles were presented to area veterans last year, no program was held because of COVID-19 restrictions. This is the 28th year the city has handed out Bibles, which have now gone to 175 residents, said Mayor Charles Murphy.
Bibles were presented this year to veterans Neal Dickinson, Larry D. Lewis, Walter Lowery, Elmer G. McDaniel, Clyde Myrick III, James E. Patterson, Clyde Payne, John M. Phillips Jr., Larry W. Roberts, Tedd A. Stone, Fred L. Stringer IV, Maurice Wiley Sr., Morrell H. Yates and retired Maj. Gen. Janet Cobb, who served as guest speaker for the event.
Begun in 1993, the program’s first honoree was Mable Frey, auxiliary president for the local VFW and a veteran of World War II. The program was expanded the next year as a way to honor local veterans, Murphy said.
Presentation of colors was by the Robertsdale High School Naval Jr. ROTC Color Guard and T.A.P.S., played by RHS Golden Bear band member Jacob Frichter. The Pledge of Allegiance was led by Robertsdale Mayor Pro Tem Joe Kitchens.
Murphy then introduced Cobb, who now serves as executive director of the USS Alabama Battleship Park.
Cobb began by saying when she was a girl, she remembered riding around Mobile with her mother and having her mother point out different landmarks to her that were no longer there.
“Of course, at the age of 13, I had no interest in any of these things and remarked to my mother that I couldn’t see them,” Cobb said. “She replied that she could see them in her minds eye because she could still remember when they were there.
“As I get older and visit different places, more and more I see things in my mind’s eye and remember when they were there. Today is a day when we remember those who did not come home from fighting for our freedom, but I challenge you to also remember those who served and returned home to live their lives.”
Cobb said among those she could see in her mind’s eye that served were two veterans from Robertsdale whom she had never met but had a special connection to.
Rex Aldridge, known around Robertsdale as the “Bee Man,” served 32 years as a lineman with the city of Robertsdale’s Utilities Department, was born in Chilton County in 1921, served with President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corps, followed General George S. Patton during World War II and was a beekeeper from the time he was 8 years old.
“Even though we never met, I can still see him in my mind’s eye,” Cobb said. “I feel a special connection to him because he is from Chilton County, where my family is from.”
Aldridge died in July of 2019 at the age of 98.
Robert Sykora, a member of the Robertsdale High School Class of 1961, was shot down as part of a spy mission over the Sea of Japan in 1969.
Born Dec. 31, 1942, Sykora’s was serving with the U.S. Navy when his plane was shot down on April 15, 1969 by the North Koreans, killing all those aboard.
There were 31 people on the plane when it was shot down. Only two bodies were recovered, found floating near the wreckage. Sykora and 28 others were never found, but it is believed that there were no survivors.
Because Sykora and the others were considered by the military to be too far from the fighting in Vietnam when they died, they were not considered casualties of the war, and are not included among the names on the Vietnam memorial in Washington, D.C., although he is included on the replica memorial which was placed at USS Alabama Memorial Park in Mobile.
Sykora’s name is also the first on the list of a Memorial Wall of Honor plaque, dedicated in May of 2019 by his fellow classmates in the lobby at Robertsdale High School listing the names of those who attended RHS who have died while serving their country.
“When I go out and visit the wall at the USS Alabama Memorial Park where I work, I see the name of Robert Sykora and I can see him in my mind’s eye,” Cobb said. “I challenge everyone to remember in their mind’s eye, not only those who fought and died, but also those who came home and built their lives. It is important that we remember them.”
Bibles were presented to veterans by Murphy and members of the Robertsdale City Council, including Kitchens, Sue Cooper and Ruthie Campbell. The ceremony concluded with prayer by Pastor Melisa Aaron of the Robertsdale Church of the Nazarene.