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Alliance honors veterans
Group enlisting more members
Vets Alliance 5 es
Everett Bennett and Charles Morgan, Korean War veterans, are a members of Veteran's Alliance. - photo by Emily Saunders

For more information on the Veterans Alliance, contact Wayne Cantrell at (678) 989-2153 or (678) 773-8346 or go online at
Memorial Day is all about honoring veterans who have defended freedom.

And honoring the sacrifices of those brave men and women is exactly what the Veterans Alliance in Forsyth County has done for the past 10 years.

“We say our motto is ‘Those who serve, deserve,'” said Wayne Cantrell, the group's founder.

The Honor Guard formed after a group of veterans got together following the 1999 Memorial Day parade on the Cumming square.

“Some of us were sitting around and just talking and we just wondered, what more we could do for other veterans,” Cantrell said. “After discussing several ideas, we decided that giving veterans a proper military funeral was the way we could best serve both the veteran and his family.”

Cantrell had participated in many military funerals, but none of the rest of the group had any experience with them.

“I trained everybody. We even borrowed rifles from the sheriff’s department,” Cantrell said. “It is such a good feeling to be able to give the families closure and to honor their loved ones.”

The alliance meets at 6 p.m. on the first Thursday of each month at the Ryan’s in Dawsonville. Members typically bring their spouses, and the entire group enjoys dinner before the meeting.

The original group included Cantrell, Ed Bell, Everett Bennett, Ralph Fowler, Larry Freeland, Charlie Morgan, A.C. Reynolds and Eddie Samples.

There are currently 38 active members, but there is need for more.

“We feel terrible when we have to turn down a family who wants their loved one to be buried with our services,” said member Jim Campbell.

“We know people are busy, but if there are any veterans out there who would be willing to join our group and help honor those veterans who have fallen, we would really appreciate them considering joining our group.”

Most of the members of the alliance are from Forsyth County, though members also hail from Alpharetta, Atlanta and Dawsonville.  Their ages vary, ranging from 40s to 80s. One of the oldest members is a recently married 89-year-old.

Many of the veterans joined the military when they were quite young. Bill Garner, a World War II veteran, tried to enlist in the Army when he was 17.

“Back then you had to be 21 years old to join, and your parents had to sign for you,” recalled Garner, who was shipped oversees in 1943. “At first, we really were not ready for that war."

Garner, who fought in the notorious Battle of the Bulge, went on to serve in the Army for five years, the Air Force for five years and then 26 years in the National Guard.

Another alliance member, Charles Morgan, joined the Army in October 1950. About a year later, he headed for Korea, where he saw plenty of action.

“I dodged plenty of mortars and snipers,” he said.

While serving in Korea, Morgan was also hospitalized with hemorrhagic fever. As with most who served, many of his memories of the war are painful.

“One young man in my squad had a hand grenade go off on the side of his face — it was awful,” he said.

Larry Freeland, one of the original members of the alliance, was a helicopter pilot during the Vietnam War. Freeland, whose father was also an Air Force pilot, flew with the 101st Airborne Division.

“I flew mostly in the north part of South Vietnam,” Freeland said.

While serving from July 1968 to September 1973, Freeland saw fierce fighting. He flew during “Lam Son 719,” the largest operation during the war, and was shot down three times.

“You really could not fly without being shot at, hit or being shot down,” he said. “We were just lucky to not be captured when we were shot down. Two times we were able to bring our choppers back to the base, and the other time we were able to make it to the border where the Marines picked us up.”

Harold Light, a member who also serves on its board of directors, said the group travels to five counties for military funerals.

“We receive referrals from funeral homes and then we make all of the arrangements,” he said.

Light, like Cantrell, said the most painful thing is having to turn away families because the group doesn't have enough members to meet the demand.

“It is absolutely heartbreaking to have to turn down a family who wants their loved one to have military funeral,” Light said. “We really want to get the word out that we need new members to join our group.”

Some training is required, though founder Cantrell stressed that participating in a military funeral is something any veteran can do.

“This is such a touching experience," he said. "It really hits you in your heart. The families are so grateful for our services, and we feel so glad that we can be a part of their final good bye to their loved ones.”