Army Sgt. 1st Class Terrence Popp remembers down to the minute the moment that would earn him a second Purple Heart; he calls them “enemy marksmanship” badges.
It was later in the afternoon, 3:31 p.m., on Aug. 28, 2004, when his vehicle was compromised by a roadside bomb in Iraq. Popp, currently living in Utica, was the only conscious soldier in his company in the vehicle. He took the wheel to avoid an inevitable fatal crash.
Recalling the incident that would give him a head injury that, at one point, caused him to lose his job, his home and his family, he looked out at the small but strong crowd Saturday afternoon at the Veteran’s Appreciation Day in Ilion and said thanks.
“My heart goes out to all of you,” he said, addressing the family and friends of soldiers past and present. “I want to say again how grateful I am. I was lucky.”
Popp was the guest speaker at the 14th annual celebration at the American Legion Post No. 920. This year’s event recognized wounded warriors and the Wounded Warrior Project, but co-chairman and founder Ronald Sterling said the event was started for all veterans.
“We wanted a day to thank all the veterans without it being politically charged,” said Sterling, a Marine veteran of the Vietnam War, adding that it is hard to observe something such as Veterans Day when some people may have to work.
For Renny Parker, much of his life has been dedicated to remembering those who served.
A Vietnam War veteran himself, Parker started attending the Ilion ceremonies seven years ago after his 21-year-old son Eli was killed in Iraq. Like Popp, Eli Parker’s vehicle was blown up by a roadside bomb, but unlike Popp, Eli never made it home.
On Saturday, Renny Parker remembered his son, but also thought of Raymond Adams, a soldier in the Korean War from Parker’s native town of Camden who died in 1950.
“It’s as if you’re laying down a map,” he said of remembering veterans from different combats. “If you don’t remember where you started, how will you know where to go?”