On Sunday night, the Woodring Wall of Honor paid tribute to their volunteers, honored 5 area veterans and winners of the youth patriotic poster/essay contest were announced and honored. In addition, City of Enid’s City Manager and former Navy Captain, Eric Benson was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award.
The ceremony was held at the Chisholm Trail Expo Center, with a banquet held before the award ceremony. The keynote speaker was Colonel Leon “Lee” Ellis, former Hanoi Hilton POW and award winning author of the book “Leading with Honor: Leadership Lessons from the Hanoi Hilton.”
The Wall of Honor honored one veteran from each branch of service with a Legacy Award. Those honored this year were:
Army: Elmer Young (presented by Lt. Col. Don Allen)
Marines: Coot Nelson (presented by Doug Frantz)
Navy: Paul Tyree (presented by David McCoy)
Air Force: R.D. Lawrence (presented by Lt. Col. Mark Irwin)
Coast Guard: Jack Murphy (presented by GMCM Mark Jacobs, USCG)
All but Murphy, who served during the 1950’s and 60’s, served during World War II.
Lifetime Achievement Award:
Retired Navy Captain Eric Benson was awarded with a Lifetime Achievement Award. Captain Benson served 29 years in the Navy. He graduated from Oklahoma State University and became a Naval Reserve. Later, he was commissioned into the Navy. During his career, he served as the Commander of Naval Base Oceana. Oceana, located in Virginia, has a population slightly less of Enid. After that, he served as a senior advisor to the Deputy Director of Veteran’s Affairs. He then spent some time as the acting Under Secretary of Memorial Affairs, and finally becoming the Deputy Director of the Selective Service. In 2004, he and his wife Barb relocated to Enid to “retire.” Or so he thought. In January 2007, he was hired as the City Manager of Enid. He has served in that capacity since then, but will retire at the end of 2014.
Poster and Essay Winners:
Posters were judged on originality, artistic presentation, and theme. Each first place winner received $50 for their class and $50 for themselves. The essay contest was judged based on different themes for each group. The elementary winner was Amber Pardo from Monroe. The middle school winner was Emma Ainsworth from Waller. The winner for each grade division received money to purchase a $100 savings bond, a certificate, and a medal.
Keynote Speaker Colonel Leon “Lee” Ellis:
Colonel Lee Ellis was the keynote speaker for the evening’s ceremony. He spoke of how he became interested in flight at the age of 5, traveling with his family to see a World War II memorial in his home state of Georgia. Amazingly, from the time he graduated school to flying the top of the line F-4 Phantom, was only a little over a year. “Pipeline Southeast Asia,” was what his paperwork read Ellis said. He was on a fast track for the war in Vietnam. Like all of our soldiers in war, he faced death everyday. After taking a direct hit, Ellis and his cohort in the F-4 ejected and were eventually taken hostage as prisoners of war. Destination: Hanoi Hilton.
The Hanoi Hilton was anything but a Hilton hotel. Small cells crowded with multiple people per cell, they lived in horrible conditions. The soldiers eventually learned to communicate with each other without alerting guards. They established a code amongst themselves. No matter what happened, or how much torture they were subjected to by the North Vietnamese, they would leave that prison with honor. After 5 long years, Ellis was released with the other occupants of the Hilton. In his group, was future Arizona Senator John McCain.
On Monday, Colonel Ellis will once again be a guest of honor at the Vietnam Memorial Wall Dedication ceremony at Woodring Airport. The former traveling wall was purchased by The Woodring Wall of Honor after a fundraising campaign. The ceremony begins at 11 am.
The ceremony on Sunday evening was presided over by Ashton Edwards from KFOR Channel 4. Her father, Brad Edwards, also served in Vietnam and was locally famous for his “In Your Corner” segments where he would help people with issues they were facing. Ashton encouraged the crowd to carry themselves in that same manner of helping people and being there for others.