By BRUCE COLLIER
Walton County Supervisor of Elections (SOE) records indicate that the Vote in Honor of a Veteran program began in October of 2011. It was initiated by Melissa Beasley, who served as Supervisor from 1999-2003. At the time, it was believed that 100 photos of veterans posted on the wall would constitute a success. Ten years later – last week – officials posted the 750th photograph on the wall.
Deputy Supervisor Bill Vorwald thought the coincidence (the week before Veterans Day) was too striking to overlook, and invited The Herald Breeze to take a brief tour of the wall. The wall, or rather, walls, can found on the first floor of the Walton County Courthouse in DeFuniak Springs. It is impossible for even a casual observer to miss. The photos, brought in by families or descendants of veterans, are scanned onto an American flag background, then arranged in rows. It was impractical to group the photos alphabetically, or by war, but efforts are made to group by family.
Vorwald praised SOE staff member Ryan Messer, who scans each photo and who created the design used on the wall. Supervisor of Elections Bobby Beasley praised both Vorwald and Messer – “they’re the heart and soul of the program.”
Visitors can locate specific veterans by browsing along the walls, or by means of a directory available for reference at the SOE office. The directory lists veterans alphabetically by last name, and is coordinated with a letter-and-number designation posted on the wall. Each photo bears the veteran’s name, service branch, years of service, and in some cases, campaigns. Photo quality varies from clear, formally posed shots to grainy newspaper photos taken in the field.
The wall bears photos of a veteran of the Seminole Indian Wars (1838-1843), and from the Civil War, Spanish American War, World War I, World War II, Korean War, Vietnam War, Desert Storm, Enduring Freedom, Iraq, Afghanistan, and other areas of combat operations where Walton County service members have found themselves over the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries. The earliest photo is that of Benjamin McLendon, who served in the Seminole Indian Wars. Some of the men and women in the photos are still active duty.
A special section is marked off for Gold Star veterans’ photos – those who gave their lives in their country’s service.
Anyone interested in posting a photo of a veteran on the Vote in Honor of a Veteran wall can get an application at the SOE office. The application details the guidelines. There is no charge. The veteran need not be a resident of Walton County; however, there must be some Walton County connection, such as birth, past residence, schooling or employment, or immediate family in residence. Photos are scanned and returned when brought in, and neither photos nor veterans’ names are ever distributed or made available to political parties, lobbying groups, or other politically-affiliated organizations.
The purpose of the wall is not only to honor veterans for their service and sacrifice, it also has an educational function. It is a valuable repository of county history. The rows and columns of faces are also a reminder to voters (and those who might think voting a waste of time) of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s admonition: “Nobody will ever deprive the American people of the right to vote except the American people themselves – and the only way they could do this is by not voting.”
For details on the Vote in Honor of a Veteran program, call the Supervisor of Elections Office at 892-8112 or 622-0744, or go online at www.votewalton.com.