If you have passed through the main gate of Dobbins Air Reserve Base off of Cobb Parkway in Marietta, Georgia, you have driven past a magnolia tree that has stood as a sentinel for more than a half century. While not obvious to the casual observer, the tree has a link to December, President John F. Kennedy, the history of Dobbins ARB and the Georgia Air National Guard.
The JFK magnolia tree at Dobbins Air Reserve Base in Marietta, Georgia on December 5, 2015 (left) 52 years after it was planted on December 7, 1943 (right) by representatives of the Georgia Air National Guard, Air Force Reserve, U.S. Navy and Marine Corps in honor of the late President John F. Kennedy. Image created by USA Patriotism! from Georgia Army National Guard photo by Capt. William Carraway (left) and courtesy photo from Georgia National Guard Archives (right).
On Nov. 22, 1963, President Kennedy was felled by an assassin's bullet in Dallas. The untimely death of the young president plunged the country into mourning. Grieving members of the Dobbins community and surrounding Cobb County pondered how they could honor the memory of Kennedy's life of service. Ultimately, representatives of the military services and civilian workers present at Dobbins agreed to honor President Kennedy with the planting of a tree to serve as a living memorial to the principles for which the President lived.
On Dec. 7, 1963, Air Force Reserve personnel and Airmen of the Georgia Air National Guard's 116th Air Transport Wing stood in formation with members of the U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps and civilian personnel to witness the tree planting ceremony. Brigadier General George H. Wilson, commander of Dobbins Air Force Base opened the ceremony by calling the formation to attention. Following the presentation of the colors, Georgia Air National Guard Chaplain (Major) Robert Pooley Jr. of the 116th ATW gave the opening prayer. He was followed by Brig. Gen. Wilbur W. Airing, commander of the Third Air Force Reserve Region.
“We can pay no better tribute to the memory of our late President than to ‘carry on' and rededicate ourselves to the continuing tasks that lay before us,” said Airing. “As this tree grows and becomes stronger and more beautiful so will our dedication to the ideals and principles for which President Kennedy fought so hard.” Airing quoted Abraham Lincoln in closing.
“If, as a result of this tragic event, all of us become a little more tolerant, a little more patriotic, a little more American, in the words of Lincoln at Gettysburg, ‘he will not have died in vain,'” said Airing.
Chief Master Sergeant Emmett N. Donald of the 116th ATW was chosen to represent the Georgia Air National Guard during the tree planting ceremony. Donald was one of four men who served on the tree planting detail.
Chaplain (Lt. Cdr.) Robert E. Osman, of Naval Air Station Atlanta, offered the dedicatory prayer after which the Georgia Air National Guard's 530th Air Force Band led by 1st Lt. Russell Moore played the National Anthem. Following a benediction by Chaplain (Capt.) Gordon V. Wood of the 445th Troop Carrier Wing, a twenty-one gun salute echoed over the rolling hills of Dobbins. The solemn strain of a lone trumpeter playing taps concluded the memorial services.
In the 52 years since its planting, the magnolia has seen many changes. Dobbins was redesignated as an Air Reserve Base, and units came and went. A 2005 Base Realignment and Closing decision closed Naval Air Station Atlanta. Subsequently, the Georgia National Guard established its Joint Force Headquarters on the former Navy site. Even the Dobbins Chapel, which once fronted the Magnolia is gone, through it lives on at the Clay National Guard Center after a valiant effort to save it from demolition.
Next time you find yourself at the Dobbins gate, look to your left as you enter. You will see a grand magnolia standing at the edge of the fence surrounded by a ring of shrubbery. A plaque at the base of the tree reveals that the tree was “dedicated in memory of John F. Kennedy, President of the United States by Officers and Men, Air Force, Navy, Marine, Dobbins Air Force Base Georgia 7 December 1963.”
By Capt. William Carraway, Georgia Army National Guard
Provided through DVIDS
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