Most everyone in the CSRA understands that Augusta has been, off and on, an Army town from the beginning, when Fort Augusta was established in 1736. The Army arsenal was founded in 1819, and Army training was conducted here for the Spanish-American War and World War I. Since 1940, Augusta not only has been an Army town continuously, it is very likely to be an Army town for many decades into the future.
The respect and affection for our soldiers by the 400,000 citizens in the CSRA have grown in recent years as a result of the 9-11 attacks on this nation, and of the uncertainty - until very recently - about the possibility of Fort Gordon closing. I would hope this support for our Army professionals will remain strong in the years ahead.
WHAT IT LESS well-known is that Augusta in recent years has also become a Navy town. In the years ahead, the Navy will have an increasingly greater presence in our area. I learned all of this quite recently when I was asked to help welcome to Augusta a large number of visitors with close ties to our Navy.
This is a big weekend for the Navy in Augusta. Over the course of the next few days, many retired Navy personnel, their families and friends will be visiting Augusta. The occasion for the visit is the celebration of the 60th anniversary of the commissioning of the ship U.S.S. Dyess. These folks were shipmates on the U.S.S. Dyess at various times during the 36 years this destroyer served the United States, from 1945 until 1981. The U.S.S. Dyess Association wanted to hold their convention here so they could visit the various places where Augusta has honored their ship and her namesake, Augusta native Lt. Col. Jimmie Dyess, U.S. Marine Corps Reserve.
The convention planners were especially interested in having their shipmates visit the Augusta Museum of History where, on the second floor, there is a permanent exhibit honoring the U.S.S. Dyess. Gordon Blaker, the curator of the museum, was able to obtain and display portions of the ship, which the crew members surely will recognize. They should also be interested in the side-by-side display of the Carnegie Medal and the Medal of Honor. Since Jimmie Dyess is the only person to earn these two high awards for heroism, this is a unique display.
SINCE I AM Jimmie Dyess' son-in-law, I was asked to assist in arranging for a Navy-Marine color guard and a speaker for the Saturday night banquet. One of the surprises of my efforts in this regard was finding out that Augusta is becoming very much a Navy town. There are almost 800 sailors stationed at Fort Gordon and, by 2008, the number will rise to more than 1,000. In addition, there is a Naval Reserve unit here that includes nearly 180 officers and enlisted personnel. These Navy reservists serve seven major units throughout the Southeast. The headquarters is on Central Avenue, immediately behind Daniel Village.
The presence of the U.S. Navy in large numbers has been a great blessing for Augusta in recent years. Clearly one of the primary reasons Fort Gordon was not included on the Department of Defense closure list was the fact that the post is truly a joint facility, in that there are large numbers of people from the Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps serving in a vital intelligence-gathering mission as part of the National Security Agency. Hence, when you see a warrior anywhere in the CSRA and thank him or her for their service to their nation, you may find yourself saying "thank you, sailor."
(Editor's note: The writer is a retired Air Force major general. He is the author of A Hero Among Heroes: Jimmie Dyess and the 4th Marine Division. He also produced, with the assistance of Augustan Mark Albertin, a 56-minute video, Twice a Hero: The Jimmie Dyess Story. He lives with his wife, Connor Dyess Smith, in Augusta.)