Church event honors local military



Rain fell for much of the “We Say Thank You” Patriotic Picnic and Celebration on Sunday at Evans Towne Center Park, but it couldn’t keep patrons from showing their appreciation for the military community.

More than 1,500 attendees sought shelter where they could find it.

Weather aside, Abilene Baptist Church Pastor Brad Whitt said the event served its purpose: to honor members of the military.

“We wanted to have a practical outside event as a way of showing our love to the community,” he said. “We have a lot of soldiers and military families in the church, so this kind of piggybacks on our relationship with (Fort Gordon).”

Patrons were treated to a patriotic music program at Lady Antebellum Pavilion.

“We have people here who serve in all the different branches of the military, and we wanted to give them an opportunity for them to be recognized,” said Tommy Sunderland, the minister of music at Abilene Baptist.

Retired Marine Lt. Cleb McClary, who lost an eye and his left arm in battle, said he was there to share a message of love. During the Vietnam War, he watched as a soldier jumped on a live grenade, saving his life.

“When you have someone love you so much that he’ll die for you, that hurts,” McClary said. “But I think this country is worth living for and dying for. I came because I believe in the Army.”

Capt. Chris Weinrich, an Army chaplain who has served two deployments to Iraq, said he was moved to see the support from the community.

“Even on a rainy night,” he said. “I’m overwhelmed by the support not just from the church, but from the CSRA.”