LaFayette's elected officials officially declared theirs as a Purple Heart City in mid-November 2017.

That declaration, according to the Military Order of the Purple Heart, is "an expression of gratitude to the sons and daughters of that community who gave their lives or were wounded in combat defending the freedoms that all Americans enjoy."

In addition to its public proclamation of gratitude, a monument commemorating those local sons who spilled blood for their family, friends and country stands near the entrance to LaFayette's Joe Stock Memorial Park .

During unveiling ceremonies for the monument, Mayor Andy Arnold recounted a brief history of this nation's oldest military honor and again expressed thanks for the sacrifices it represents.

Those who gathered on the afternoon, Feb. 22, for the dedication ceremony, a retired veteran who helped champion efforts to create this memorial noted the many Walker County residents, past and present, awarded the purple and gold medal bearing a bust of George Washington, father of this country and commander of the Continental Army.

"I want to recognize a special donor whose name I do not know, " Col. Daryl Brooks said the afternoon of Feb. 22, as brilliant springtime sun alternated with dark, foreboding skies. "In the parking lot of a business here in town a young boy approached me and asked if I was the 'purple heart man.'

"I replied that I suppose I am. He then placed a quarter in my hand and said 'this is for my grandpa. He died in Vietnam and I never got to meet him.'

"I was so overcome I could not speak. Wherever you are son, thank you and rest assured your grandpa is looking down on you with a very proud smile on his face."

Brooks thanked the mayor, the city council and City Manager David Hamilton for their support of the monument that represents those wounded in combat those that gave their lives in the service of their country.

Many were never to return alive: the county lost 19 of its sons during World War I, another 83 during World War II, 16 were killed during the Korean conflict and "an astounding 31 young men from this county" gave their lives in Vietnam.

"These young men were destined to never hear the laughter of their children or a feel another summer breeze on their faces," Brooks said. "Their sacrifice was everything and enables us to enjoy the freedoms that so many take for granted.

"There would be no guarantee of the Bill of Rights without the blood given by holders of the Purple Heart."

Speaking to a group that included local officials, veterans — along with their families and descendants — Brooks was adamant in restating the monument's meaning.

"Let me be explicitly clear about one thing, that his monument does not in any manner glorify war. All of us who wear the Purple Heart will quickly tell you that there are no bands with marching music nor shiny buttons and medals and waving flags in war.

"War is the most vile and filthy thing that mankind does to itself. It is a dirty, horrible thing.

"Anyone that glorifies combat is either a liar or a phony. I know of no combat veteran that will tell you otherwise

"While the actions of those in the war may represent the finest qualities of mankind for their gallantry and bravery, it in no way justifies the cruelty of the act of war itself. But, let me be very clear that those who let others defend their freedoms and seek to hide from their responsibilities to the country are, in my view, far worse than the ugliness of war.

"To those who wear the medal and to those that made the ultimate sacrifice, welcome home brothers."

Mike O'Neal is assistant editor for the Walker County Messenger in LaFayette, Ga. He can be reached at the Messenger office at 706-638-1859 and by email at moneal@npco.com.