The Freedom Gallery
It was my distinct privilege to attend and play a small part in the opening of the Freedom Gallery at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College in Tifton, GA. This wonderful addition to Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College is placed in the Administration Building on the main campus. A few months prior to this auspicious event, I was contacted by the wife of the President of ABAC, Mrs. Kim Bridges, and asked if I could come and participate in the opening of the Freedom Gallery. The reason I was asked to come is that the person for whom the gallery is named is Harold B. "Pinky" Durham my close friend during the earlier days of our lives and until he was killed in Vietnam. Pinky is the only person from Tift County that has ever been awarded the Medal of Honor and his name is forever attached to the Freedom Gallery. Everyone should feel indebted for the vision of Dr. David Bridges (President of ABAC) and his wife Kim in addition to their incredible staff led by Lindsey Roberts. Without them the Freedom Gallery would not exist.
My reason for being invited is that I was asked to speak and relate some things about my relationship with Pinky as we grew up. The purpose for this little talk was to put a personal face on all that was about to happen in the dedication of the Freedom Gallery. The evening before the dedication of the Gallery there was a private showing of the Freedom Gallery held for Pinky's family and some of their personal friends and others who had a close relationship with Pinky. About one-hundred people attended. It was at this meeting that I was asked to speak about the person named Pinky Durham. I was honored beyond words to be able to be a part of this Freedom Gallery event. As I stood to relate some things about our hero, Pinky, I found it difficult to get through the presentation without getting emotional. Over the years, and especially for the first number of years, I could not talk about his death without getting emotional. As I said that evening, I had a rougher time getting over Pinky's death that I did getting over my own father's death which occurred about three years after Pinky was killed. Somehow, my emotions were always pierced when I thought about Pinky.
One of the events that we had at the church of which I was the Pastor was the Patriotic Extravaganza. It was a big event with a full house in attendance and it was for the purpose of honoring those who have served and who are currently serving our nation in the military. It was a BIG event we held every two years. During the evening there was a certain point at which we honored our veterans and those now serving by projecting their pictures for all to see. We had a person to play Amazing Grace on the Bagpipes while we showed the pictures of those who were no longer with us. The first picture that was always shown was the picture of Harold B. "Pinky" Durham with the underscore saying...."Boyhood friend of Brother Bill." I always cried and didn't care if the people knew it.
There are some people that one meets in life and a special "connection" happens. As related in another of my "recollections", Pinky and his older brother John (he was Johnny to everyone in Tifton) were just such people to me. We grew up together for several years in the little "our gang" that was located in the Missouri Ave., Pine Street area of Tifton. Friendships were established that have lasted the test of time. Somehow this "special" connection bound us together even though there were miles, time and yes, even death struggling to separate our connection. Pinky, Johnny and I had such a relationship. On a number of occasions over the years I have called Johnny and he would say: "man, I was just thinking about you." Weird! I was called by Johnny and asked to be a part of the dedication of the Medal of Honor tombstone over Pinky's grave in the Tifton cemetery in 1983. I also received a call to officiate at Johnny and Pinky's mother's funeral. At crucial points the Lord seems to draw us back together. Such was the situation with the Freedom Gallery. John (as he became known in adult life) called and told me about the event a number of months in advance so I could make plans to be there. Then the invitation from ABAC arrived laying out the events of the two days which were involved. Of course, those dates were cast in stone on my calendar and looked forward to with great anticipation. I was honored above expression to be a part of the Freedom Gallery dedication. It is something that I will never forget. The event was special for another reason also. The Missouri Avenue "our gang" was well represented. John, myself and our dear friend, Nick Bennett were able to renew our boyhood friendships at the Freedom Gallery dedication. Nick was the one that everyone in the group of boys looked up to. He became a Minister and has served the Lord well over the years. It was a wonderful experience for the three of us to be able to see each other again.
The Freedom Gallery is a "class" presentation of the honor that should be given to all of our veterans. They have placed their lives on the line in order for us to enjoy the freedoms we have. The gallery itself is professionally presented. A special cabinet holds the Medal of Honor that was presented to Pinky's family in 1969. It is impressively displayed in the most tasteful of ways. Many other things which were a part of Pinky's life and service are very professionally displayed as well. The formal presentation of the Freedom Gallery at which about five hundred people were in attendance, was very well programmed in order to pay the proper tribute to Pinky as well as all veterans.
The group of about five hundred people who gathered in front of the Administration Building (in which the Freedom Gallery resides) were honored to hear several people speak about their experiences with Pinky and the Black Lions in general. Sitting on the front lawn of ABAC was a fully equipped Huey helicopter like the ones used in Vietnam. It had been flown in earlier that morning with a full crew and it formed an impressive backdrop for the day. A young man named Matt Bridges spoke who was a Marine and had served in Afghanistan where he was injured. An impressive young man he was! He spoke of honor and duty and during that speech he made this statement which I consider profound. He said: "To those who have fought the battle, freedom has a flavor the protected will never know." That is a profoundly true statement and it struck me full force.
A reunion of some of the men who served with Pinky was held that morning in the Chapel at ABAC. It was a tremendous reunion of many of the men who were involved in the life of Pinky Durham. Members of the Black Lions who served with Pinky and were involved in the battle in which he gave his life were present as well as men from his OCS class. This reunion was historic in many ways and it was a wonderful expression of appreciation and honor for veterans and for Pinky in particular.
I told John that if Pinky Durham knew the extent to which his life and service made an impression on people he would have never believed it. Such an honor as the Medal of Honor and the Freedom Gallery (as well as others too numerous to mention here) were beyond the pale of our imaginations in our younger days when life was carefree and filled with good times and friendship. Yes, Pinky is the one that no one will forget. He is forever inscribed in history as well in the hearts of those who knew him. Nick Bennett went on to sing opera and later to serve the Lord in the Ministry. John, became a very successful businessman near San Antonio, TX. I became a Pastor and led God's people for forty-five years. But, the one who will be long remembered is that little red headed guy named Harold Bascom Durham, Jr. who died for our freedoms and was awarded the Medal of Honor. But, I feel that this little missive would not be complete without mentioning his brother John and his dear wife Marilyn who have traveled untold miles to attend untold events honoring Pinky and others who paid the ultimate price for our freedom. Without John's persistence, the Freedom Gallery would not have happened. We are also indebted to him for his vision and dedication to this task. As I stated in the presentation I was honored to give, I have never seen any brother as dedicated to his younger brother as John has been to Pinky. Our hats are off to him for all he has done over the years to keep Pinky's memory alive and to honor those who served with him in Vietnam as well as veterans in general.
The Freedom Gallery is open to anyone who wants to visit it. It is located in the Administration Building of Abraham Baldwin College in Tifton, GA. I encourage everyone to make a trip to see it. You will be a better person for it.
William F. Harrell