TIFTON - Local veterans were remembered Thursday with an observance at Veterans Park that included placement of a Blue Star Marker and a plaque in memory of murdered Veterans Service worker Mary Hancock.

City Councilman Dave Hetzel shared his memories of Vietnam in the last days before the fall of Saigon. Hetzel, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel, was a major stationed in the Philippines when the U.S. began evacuating orphans from the embattled city. Assigned to inspect evacuees and their luggage to prevent hijacking, he was in Saigon when the airport was bombed and rendered inoperable.

"We spent the night in a bomb shelter waiting for somebody to come get us, and we didn't really know if anybody would come," Hetzel recalled. "I wanted to talk about this today so that maybe people can become a little bit more appreciative of the people that lay their lives on the line ... It's not easy."

VFW member Henry Bostick spoke about Hancock, who was kidnapped and killed this summer. "Mary worked for the Georgia Department of Veterans Service for 37 years," Bostick said. "She was a veterans' benefit counselor, and in her work she was dedicated, very knowledgeable and extremely hard-working.

"Mary was not only efficient, but she always had a smile and she had infinite patience. I don't believe I ever saw Mary that she didn't have a smile on her face. She didn't deserve the end she had."

Hannah L. Williams, the local winner of the VFW's Voice of Democracy contest, read her essay. Williams, a 10th grader at Tiftarea Academy, recalled the heroism of her grandfather, who won a Distinguished Flying Cross for his service in World War II.

"We live in a free country every day because of what they did," Williams said.

Jaydee Ager, president of the Garden Clubs of Georgia, and Dee Knox presented the Blue Star Marker. Garden clubs nationally began placing the markers after World War II in honor of veterans. The Tifton Police Department's Honor Guard placed a wreath on the marker and also presented the colors for the ceremony.

About 200 people were on hand for the annual observance.

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