County Commissioner Terry Roland (seated, left) and state Senator Lee Harris (seated, right, behind flag on table), candidates for County Mayor and co-sponsors of an annual Veterans Town Hall and Luncheon in Millington, listen as Millington Mayor Terry Jones, dressed in his Naval reservist's uniform, speaks to the occasion.
One of the several Veterans Day events going on Saturday was the third annual edition of the Veterans Day Town Hall and Luncheon, held at the Hampton Inn in Millington. As always, the event featured a color guard, patriotic recitations and songs (some of the latter enacted by some energetic high school students from Rosemark), fried chicken and fixings, and tributes to the armed services, as well as to specific military veterans from the area.
Perhaps uniquely this year, it also featured two serious candidates for Shelby County mayor. Shelby County Commissioner Terry Roland and state Senator Lee Harris, both of whom represent the Millington area, are the normal sponsors of the Town Hall and Luncheon. The fact that they both happen now to be announced candidates for mayor (and, in some reckonings, possible opponents in the 2018 general election) was either a coincidence or a serendipity, or both.
In any case, Republican Roland and Democrat Harris — along with Millington alderman Frankie Dakin, a Harris campaign aide — were sponsors once again and were all intent upon describing Saturday’s event as “beyond politics.”
As Harris put it, formally convening the program, “We all believe that this is a special day and, although we are not all the same political party, we think honoring our veterans is one issue where party doesn’t matter.”
The senator also paid tribute to the event’s regular partner organization, Alpha Omega Veterans Services, and to several dignitaries on hand: Matt Van Epps, the Assistant Commissioner at Tennessee Department of Veterans Services; Lt. Commander David Mowbray, chaplain at Naval Support Activity, Mid-South; and NSA Mid-South Commander Captain Michael Wathen.
For the most part, the Town Hall and Luncheon did, as all the principals promised, steer clear of politics, with one, probably inadvertent, exception. That was when Millington Mayor Terry Jones, dressed in Navy dress blues to commemorate his 24 years of active plus reserve service, was conveying his gratitude to Harris, Roland, and Dakin for putting on the event.
The first two acknowledgments went this way, verbatim: “Senator, I appreciate you putting this on every year. It’s our third year in public. Commissioner Roland, thank you, can we call you mayor yet?”
That last statement, which drew a nervous chuckle or two from the attendees, was surely unintentional, a case of what the textbooks call a Freudian slip
In any case, Roland did not seem displeased. It was his duty to close out the affair, and he did that with his patented mix of humility, good humor, and roughneck directness.
After telling a few tales about his own involvement with the military tradition, including one reminiscence of his father’s “pushing an ice cream wagon” at the old Naval training base at Millington and another of taking a pilgrimage with his Dad to the ancestral home of Sergeant Alvin York, a famed World War I hero from Tennessee, Roland made a point of professing himself “so grateful to Senator Lee Harris and alderman Frankie Dakin,” his event co-sponsors.
He unabashedly added, “Senator, I love you; Frankie, I love you.”
But, given the patriotic nature of the occasion, Roland could not resist (in any case, did not resist) recalling out loud his passionate resentment of a an official statement from Shelby County Schools, made in the wake of the controversy surrounding NFL athletes kneeling rather than standing for the national anthem.
The SCS statement evidently expressed a willingness to permit that form of expression from students. Roland recapped for the attendees his angry reaction, a threat to “take away every bit of funding” from the school system, easing up to say with a wink, “knowing I couldn’t do it.”
The commissioner said that people had “a right to protest but not during that national anthem and not on that flag.” and ended by saying that the anthem and the flag were “two things that we must stand for and stand behind.”
That might or might not be regarded as a case of allowing politics into the event, depending on one’s point of view. In any case, the muffled shout or two of assent from the audience during the heated part of Roland’s statement indicated that nobody who was there on Saturday had much complaint about it.