GATESVILLE – He’s been an engineer and a transportation commander of over 20,000 troops. He retired a two-star general only two ranks below the highest achievement attainable in the U.S. Army.
Still, Aaron Lilley never lost his Gates County roots.
Those same roots brought him back home to be the guest speaker for the 2015 Veterans Day Service conducted at the Gates County Courthouse on Wednesday.
A crowd of more than 150 packed the courtroom for the one-hour service. The ceremony featured Master of Ceremonies J.B. Freeman and participation by local Boy Scout Troop 200, singer Emily Lane, Gates County High senior advisor Deja Gainey and the recognition of more than 40 veterans of all branches of the armed forces.
Former classmate and veteran John E.R. Perry introduced Lilley and recounted how Lilley’s leadership took him through 31 years of service to his country.
“He held so many prestigious jobs that any Army soldier would’ve loved to have,” said Perry.
Lilley began recounting his days from controlling the water moccasin population of Bennett’s Creek to retirement as the commanding general of Fort Eustis in Newport News, VA.
“Any occasion to talk about our veterans is a special occasion,” Lilley began. “And I want to thank all of you for planning and executing the actions that have preserved our freedom. That’s what veterans are responsible for, and have been doing for a very long time.”
Lilley spoke of the veteran’s sense of pride and how it defines their service to our country.
“It’s a special pride that’s formed there and stays there, and they appreciate it,” the general stated. “All veterans have it to some extent: the ability to get the job done, no matter what the cost.”
Lilley challenged the youth in the crowd, and gave a charge to the adults.
“They have to understand what freedom is all about,” he intoned, “and we have to teach them that freedom isn’t free.”
The general also spoke on the importance of the American flag: the red-white-and-blue stars and stripes.
“It flies now all around the world,” he declared. “It does so because our veterans have been fighting for it, and will do so in the future. Next time you see one flying in the breeze, think of the veterans that have fought for it, are fighting for it, and will do so in the future.”
Lilley challenged the veterans to take pride in what they represent.
“Somebody had to get the job done, no matter where,” he acknowledged, “and you did it. Be more proud than you want to be because you are the rocks that built the nation, and I want to congratulate you and tell you we’re proud of the role you’ve played.”
Lilley also commended the veteran support groups from the Disabled American Veterans to the VFW to the American Legion.
“They work every day in civilian life to provide for veterans,” he said in closing. “God bless them, and God bless America.”
Following the speaker, each of the veterans present stood and told something about their years of service. They ranged from World War II veterans to Korea, Vietnam and those who served, or serving in the Middle East conflicts. They were a reminder to all present that duty, honor, and sacrifice are but a small portion of the work they had done.
“I learned through this experience the value of teamwork,” one veteran proudly explained. “I went all over the world and there is no greater honor than to have served our country. It was a privilege.”