But, one group of retired military personnel has charged itself with a mission so lofty it will impact local communities for generations to come.
Voices of Veterans was started by retired World War II veteran A. Wayne Smith more than 10 years ago as an offshoot of Yackety Yack, a group of approximately 139 retired men who gathered Wednesday mornings to have breakfast and talk about one thing or another.
“We would have breakfast and fellowship,” Smith said, explaining that he would bring in speakers that included heart specialists, urologists, investment experts and others to speak on topics of interest to retired men. “We were looking for something to do to get out of that big easy chair.”
Smith not only served in World War II, but he was part of the first wave to land on the beaches of Normandy, and, as a result, was shot three times. Smith says that, as children, his son and two daughters always enjoyed hearing his war stories, so it was only natural that when his son, Chris, now a history teacher, asked him to speak to his students, he was happy to oblige.
After being well-received, it was suggested that Smith do the same in other classrooms. So, using Yackety Yack as a base, the former bank vice president moved forward with the idea.
“In my group of men, I had a lot of veterans so I began to draft some of them to see if we could go to the schools and speak about patriotism - what it means to be an American,” Smith said.
Now Voices of Veterans “preaches and teaches” in seven counties and touches the lives of approximately 30,000 students from pre-K through high school each year, with different programs for different age groups.
Pre-K through second-graders receive an entertainment-style program that includes singing, acting, storytelling and puppets. Uncle Sam is even involved.
“We have a program at every level. Middle school and high school kids, for instance, want to hear about the shooting and killing,” Smith said. “They like to hear about D-Day and we try to coincide our talks with whatever they’re studying in history class.”
The speakers, who range in rank from privates to generals, tell stories that run the gambit.
During his military career, state Rep. John Yates, for instance, flew a Piper Cub and was a spotter for artillery, while 89-year-old Bob Schmutzler came running out of his barracks, shooting his M-1 rifle at the Japanese planes, during the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
“We cover the gambit,” Smith said.
And whenever they speak, the veterans give out American flags, courtesy of Conner-Westbury Funeral Home, to the students.
During the slow summer months, the organization focuses primarily on speaking to civic organizations and in nursing homes.
Whoever the audience, the topic is always the same - patriotism.
“We are after the young people because that’s where we can teach them what patriotism is,” Smith said. “And the older folks have already been there, but they still need to be renewed.”
Georgia Public Broadcasting recently spent 2 1/2 hours in Wayne and Lewellyn Smith’s north Spalding County home discussing World War II as part of a D-Day documentary scheduled to air in the fall.
For the Smiths, who have maintained boxes of World War II newspaper clippings and photographs, the memories of Dec. 7, 1941, are as clear today as they were 66 years ago.
“When Pearl Harbor was bombed, we grew up where we had no electricity or radio,” Lewellyn Smith said. “One of my brothers came to tell me.”
Her then-16-year-old future husband, like many others, heard it over the car radio.
It would be two more years before he would graduate from high school and head for Fort McPherson, Ga. After 16 weeks of basic training at Fort McClellan, Ala., and a short stint in New York, it was off to join the 29th Infantry Division in 1944, where he trained until the June 6, 1944, D-Day invasion.
For information on scheduling Voices of Veterans, call 770-227-0701.