By Terry Borders, JPI
Freedom Warriors is a non-profit community veterans organization based in Barren County that exists to serve and help out veterans.
Ernie Wagoner, the current community commander, founded the organization out of a heart to honor veterans for their service and to offer the opportunity for members to get out and help veterans in times of need.
“We serve the veteran community in a lot of different ways,” Wagoner shared. “We don’t just hand out a check if someone asks for help. We really talk to them and see what they need. Then, we do what we can to help them out. It could mean helping with bills at times, but it’s more than that. Everything is a case-by-case basis. We do our best to help veterans out the best we can.”
Freedom Warrior community members take vets to the VA who need a ride, but they also collect toys and food to help children and families in need during the holidays. Wagoner said they sometimes work with Next Step on the food and toy drives.
Vet Jam was an event they held for fifteen years, with the last one being in 2022. “Bands would come play, some years there was a 5K run, and we’d end with fireworks,” Wagoner shared.
“The second year of Vet Jam, we started honoring veterans with a commemorative plaque or something similar,” he said. “We often tried to do it as a surprise which was not always easy to pull off!” He said they worked with local representatives in the House and Senate to get citations for honorees and local public service officials are very supportive as well.
“During the fifteen years, we honored 262 veterans and numerous First Responders from Barren and surrounding counties,” Wagoner said. “Most had never received any type of recognition or honor for their service previously.”
Every year since 9/11, Freedom Warriors has held candlelight vigils at the Glasgow Fire House on Broadway on September 11th. According to Wagoner, although they are not in any way a motorcycle club, they used to also do a ride each year. When Glasgow received a piece of steel from the fall of the towers on 9/11, they built a trailer and took it around to surrounding counties for people to see.
One thing they may be more well known for is participating in funerals for veterans by performing a flag ceremony, a rifle volley, and playing taps. A similar ceremony recently held resulted in the Freedom Warriors being nominated as Hometown Heroes.
Jini Payne, who is responsible for the child’s care, shared “I would like to nominate the Freedom Warriors for their service to a little girl who was not allowed to attend her father’s funeral. They held a service for her and presented her with a flag and a memorial box with duplicates of many of his medals, pins, and patches. They gave her the closure she would not have had otherwise.”
When permission was denied to take the child out of state to her father’s funeral, which the girl, and subsequently Payne requested, Payne asked fellow church members Maria and Clayton Lancaster if they were aware of any veteran organizations that might be able to help give the young girl some sense of closure.
It so happened that the Lancasters are members of Freedom Warriors. Once the situation was known, the community went into action to help. They gathered information about the father’s rank, awards, medals, etc. from photos of him in his uniform.
“We have two members who are excellent woodworkers,” Wagoner said. “They made a really special case. It has a place for the flag, but also three additional windows where we put his rank, his photo, and his medals and awards.” Payne said the now 10-year-old girl has the case displayed in her bookcase.
The Freedom Warriors did the ceremony at Fort Williams – a Civil War Battlefield near the back of the Glasgow Cemetery. They performed a flag folding ceremony, a 3 rifle volley salute, and played taps before presenting the memorial case to the child.
“This allowed her to have the closure she needed after not being allowed to attend the out-of-state funeral of her father,” Payne said. “It meant so much to her and I’m sure as she gets older, her appreciation will only increase.”
Wagoner said that the Freedom Warriors Community Veterans Organization currently has about 22 members and would welcome more.
“Veterans are always welcome, but we’d love to talk to anyone, vet or not, who has a heart for veterans – for helping them and their families in times of need, in honor of their service,” Wagoner said.
“Everything we do is a community group effort,” he added. “We offer a way for folks to actively show their appreciation for those who have served.”
Freedom Warriors meets at the Beckton Community Center, which they completely remodeled in 2009-2010, not just for their use, but also for the community of Beckton to use for events and gatherings.
On behalf of Jobe Publishing, Inc., the Barren County Progress is honored to recognize The Freedom Warriors Community Veterans Organization as August’s Hometown Hero for not only the numerous ways veterans are helped but also the compassion and dedication exhibited to give a young girl closure for her father’s death, a sincere and heartfelt moment that she will always carry with her.