By June Mathews
For The Tribune
TRUSSVILLE — Though they’ve gone to the same church for years, Gordon Harvey and Richard Bailey had never met until two weeks ago. But there’s nothing surprising about that. After all, First Baptist Church of Trussville is a big place with members often segregated by age, and the two men are of different generations.
Common ground, however, recently brought them together. The names of both men appear on the “Wall of Freedom” in the church’s library. And when they dropped by to view the patriotic display, they learned church membership is not all they share. Harvey, a Korean War veteran of the U.S. Air Force, who later transitioned to the Air National Guard, served in the 117th Air Refueling Wing, the same unit in which Bailey currently serves as a master sergeant.
The two hit it off.
“Once you’ve served in any branch of the military, it’s sort of a brotherhood,” Harvey said. “I would have never guessed that we had this many (members of the military) right here in our church.”
The idea for the Wall of Freedom came about during the spring when Library Director Connie Horsley and her team were casting around for a different kind of summer observance. For more than 20 years, the library sponsored a summer reading program, but in the past few years, participation has been dwindling, and something new seemed to be in order.
Team member JoAnn Mitchell came up with the concept.
“Trussville is very patriotic, and many members of our church come in their uniforms for the Fourth of July and different patriotic days,” Mitchell said. “But we hadn’t done anything patriotic (in the library) in a long time. I thought it would be nice to honor the people who help preserve our freedom.”
So a notice went out via the church newsletter and worship guides, asking members to provide the library team with the names of anyone in their immediate families, living or deceased, who had ever served in the military. The names, the notice said, would be included on a wall of honor. According to Horsley, the response was immediate and overwhelming.
“We expected to get a few hundred names, but 529 names were submitted the first day,” she said.
While Horsley originally thought a small portion of a wall near the circulation desk would provide plenty of room for the list, the nearly 700-name Wall of Freedom covers the entire wall and spills over onto nearby soffit space.
“One of the best parts of this has been the little kids coming in to find their fathers’ or grandfathers’ names on the wall,” Mitchell said. “It’s such a history lesson for them.”
In addition to the honor roll, military memorabilia dating back to World War I and including flags, hats, and jackets from every branch of the service, is on display around the library.
“We’ve even got a hat from the WACs,” Mitchell said, “and that was hard to find.”
As one of the individuals being recognized by the library’s patriotic decor, Harvey is pleased, yet humbled, to be one of the people listed.
“It’s a great honor,” he said. “I’m a very patriotic man and proud to have served, so this means the world to me.”
And Bailey, while he’s also proud to be a member of the military, considers his service at least, if not more, beneficial to himself and his family as it is to anyone else.
“When I’m in the store or something, and people see my uniform, they’ll often thank me for my service,” he said, “but I thank them back because I’ve gotten way more out of it. So getting this recognition is gravy to me and to all the veterans in the church and the military family members of the church. I think it’s a really good thing.”
Current plans call for the Wall of Freedom and military memorabilia to remain on display through the July 4 holiday weekend.