DENISON'S HOMETOWN HEROES CELEBRATION
June 6, 2009
By DONNA HUNT
Saturday definitely was a Red Letter Day in Denison. I overheard one woman say "This is the best thing that Denison has ever done!"
If you missed the salute to three of Denison's heroes, I'm sorry because it truly was a wonderful day for our town.
In the beginning plans were to honor native son, Capt. Chesley B.
Sullenberger, the newest hero for Denison who successfully landed US
Airways Flight 1549 on Jan. 15 on the Hudson River in New York City,
saving the lives of 155 passengers and crew on board. He was coming
to town to be keynote speaker for the 2009 Denison High School
graduation in Munson Stadium and to attend the 40th reunion of the
class if 1969.
Capt. Sullenberger preferred to share the spotlight with others and since the event was planned for June 6 that just happened to be the 65th anniversary of D-Day, it was appropriate to honor veterans of all wars along with two other native sons, Five-Star general and 34th president of the United States Dwight D. Eisenhower, and Thomas Volney Munson, internationally known horticulturist who saved the grapes of France.
Many relatives and friends as well as a crowd of nearly 1,000 people lined downtown and filled the Katy Depot Park to welcome "Sully" as he had become known.
After a brief stop on the way to the depot to visit with a family friend Margaret Jones, widow of Dr. Reid Jones, Sully and his wife, Lorrie, arrived at the depot for a short reception in the rotunda to meet other friends and talk briefly with many of them.
One special guest was 91-year-old Evelyn Cook, whose husband, L.T. Cook taught him to fly, and himself a veteran of World War II. Mrs. Cook said that nothing could have kept her from coming to see Sully again.
As Sullenberger and Lorrie rode in a 1950 yellow Ford convertible in the parade, they were greeted by banner after banner held by children and adults welcoming him back to Denison and thanking him for his actions in saving so many lives on Flight 1549. Applause and excitement followed the parade route down Main back to the depot where he was met by a huge crowd of excited people.
U.S. Congressman Ralph Hall, Gov. Rick Perry, State Rep. Larry Phillips and Mayor Robert Brady, a classmate in the class of 1969, were on hand to speak and present a stack of gifts to Sullenberger. Former County Judge Horace Groff also presented him with a trophy naming him a Distinguished Alumni at Denison High School.
Gov. Perry presented him with a plaque naming him an admiral in the Texas Navy and Mayor Brady presented him a key to the city. He also received a flag that flew over the U.S. Capitol and one that flew recently over the Alamo.
In fact, he was presented so many mementos of his trip home that the gifts were packed up by the Chamber of Commerce to be mailed to him at home.
There was music by Larry Young and the North Texas Choir and the entire crowd joined with them in singing "Battle Hymn of the Republic" and "God Bless America." Carl Bilderback, a retired Navy veteran, gave the invocation.
David Bryant, another Sully classmate, was master of ceremonies for the celebration and a Sheppard AFB Color Guard and the Perrin Field Honor Guard Corps presented the colors and led in the pledge to the U.S. Flag.
Former Denison mayor and retired Marine Col. Bill Lindsey paid tribute to a large group of veterans who assembled under the welcome shade of trees in the park. Many of the veterans wore their blue T-shirts designating them Navy veterans. Others veterans wore hats designating their branches of the service.
This writer was privileged to be asked to speak on behalf of President Eisenhower, selected because of her association with his birthplace as park director for several years. That status gained for me a ride in a red Corvette, owned and driven by Mike Springer, in the parade.
Dr. Roy Renfro from Grayson County College and head of the viticulture center that bears T.V. Munson's name, paid tribute to Munson who died in 1913 and first brought fame to Denison for his success in helping save the grapes of France.
I had put my camera in my purse, just in case I got a chance to take a photo or two. That's a habit from working for the newspaper for so many years. While riding in the parade I decided it was a perfect opportunity to get some different photos so as camera clicked as the parade passed, I also shot some wonderful scenes of people and of their tributes to Sully on large posters along the route.
I put the camera away, but as the program progressed and I was sitting on the stage that had been assembled for the occasion, I once again got my camera out and got more crowd pictures and the back side as presentations being made to Sully. I'm proud of those pictures and a lot of others that I shot.
The weather was wonderful during the entire event with a cloud cover keeping the sun at bay. Speakers held their remarks to three minutes and Sullenberger did the same ending with a question to his classmates saying "Why didn't you treat me this way when we were in high school?" He also wanted to know if we did this in Denison every Saturday. Cheers and applause ended the event as many crowded around the stage to shake his hand or get his autograph.
One veteran got my attention and handed me a photograph of Flight 1549 with the passengers and crew standing on the wings in the Hudson River. He asked me to pass it to Sully for his autograph. When I explained to Sully that it was for a veteran, he said "Of course I'll sign it." When I handed it back to the veteran I told him, "This is a keeper." He said that he knew it and he wouldn't forget the day.
I'm sure there were many people who will remember the day. It will become one of those that we will never forget. It was a great day for Denison.