BUNNY IN THE CITY: 77th Annual Veterans Day Gala

Hunter AAF Garrison Commander Robert Cuthbertson, Meaghan Cuthbertson, Joe Higgins, CSM Ryan Reichard

Kicking off Veterans Week with their 77th Annual Gala on Friday, Nov. 4, at the Elks Lodge on Wilshire, the Veterans Council of Chatham County hosted local military dignitaries and community leaders along with special guests, 94 year-old Bob Cutler and 97 year-old Howard Young.

Having two World War II veterans attend tonight’s event makes it even more special, but before I can get over to greet the dapper dressed gentlemen, I find triple amputee Ryan Davis and his wife Asia entering the Elk’s Lodge. Wishing I could talk with the couple longer, I reluctantly rushed inside the ballroom to snap pics of newlyweds Mike Ball and Jennifer Fortenberry.

My petite friend is looking ravishing in an black and silver fitted sequin dress, while Mike is all suited up in a black tuxedo. Thinking that they are a perfect poster couple for the US Army (Mike is a former US Army Staff Sergeant and Chinook Flight Engineer while Jennifer is a former US Army Major and Black Hawk Helicopter pilot), I smile when I realize that this 5’1” lady outranks her 5’11” husband—as it should be!

Walking past The Dive Savannah’s scrumptious buffet, I see Joe Mitchler looking all kinds of happy about being selected as the Veterans Day Parade Grand Marshall, while his wife Carolyn and granddaughter Michelle Holton look on with pride. Sitting at the table beside them is my patriotic Step One Automotive Group family: Maja Ciric, Danica Williams, Jonathan Oppenheim and Chelsea Altman along with Jessica Blakely, Andreas Edwards and Sinisa Ciric.

Slowing down my favorite veteran historian Doug Andrews and asking him to condense his history is a tough call, but Doug replies with “I served seven years as Veterans Council Chairman from 2013-2020, was Veteran of the Year in 2009 and have been involved with the American Legion since 1998. The project I am most proud of is when we created and erected the World War II monument on River Street in 2010.”

The local attorney and retired military court martial judge then gives me the scoop on 2013 Veteran of the Year, 94 year-old Bob Cutler. I learned Bob joined the Coast Guard in 1945 when he turned 17, he served various positions protecting shipping, and for his final assignment, Bob served as Port Captain of the Port of Savannah after WWII. 

Sitting beside Bob is our oldest veteran in the room, US Navy veteran Howard Young. Always smiling and bearing Tootsie Rolls, Howard cheerfully poses for pics before I get called over to snap pics of Old Town Trolley’s Scott Leekly and his wife Michelle. Proud to finally meet this brunette beauty, I ask the couple where they are sitting. At Marianne Ganem Poppell’s table of course!

Seated with them is Marianne and her Simply Savannah Marketing partner Dru Usry, her main man Rob, State Farm’s Vernon Donovan, Connect Savannah’s Chantel Britton and Chantel’s sister Lavyon Frazier. Not exactly sure what Marianne is wearing, I giggled when I heard Rob ask Marianne, “Are we going to a costume party?” But seriously, I have to admire her poofy tulle camouflage skirt!

Continuing in the long line of distinguished Veterans of the Year like OC Fowler, Jim Grismer, Rich Noel and Jim Vejar, Greg Kindred is one of those reluctant heroes who has always shied away from the spotlight but is so deserving of this prestigious award. The retired US Navy Command Master Chief has such a long list of veteran organizations that I can’t list them all, so I ask Mike Ball to give me a rundown of Greg’s achievements.

The American Legion Post 135 Junior Vice Commander responds with, “I admire Greg because he is so giving of his time. He is the behind-the-scenes guy for Flags of the Fallen, the B-17 Restoration Project, the Veterans Tiny Home Project, is a member of five veteran organizations and does everything at American Legion Post 135. He is a quiet professional that has made a tremendous impact on the Chatham County Veteran community.”

It’s award time! Joe takes the stage to present awards to Non-Commissioned Officer of the Year SGT Garrett Blanchard, Soldier of the Year SPC Mathew Martin, and the Bald Eagle Award to Veteran Carriers’ Lukas and Roy White, Jr., for the massive amount of money raised for the Veterans Council from their annual car show.

He concludes with, “With a long history of honoring local military, first responders and community partners for their support of the veterans’ community in Chatham county, the Veterans Day Gala is the crown jewel event that celebrates their achievements.”

Amen. Celebrating our local legends while they are still alive, giving a spotlight to young officers and troops that stand out to local companies like Veterans Carriers who continue to pay it forward are reasons why I love Veterans Week so much. Dear veterans, we appreciate your service, we salute you and we love you all!


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