And yet Pender, who still calls Georgia home, counts among his highest honors his place in a small, solemn corner in Atlanta passed by thousands of people every week day.
The Georgia Military Veterans Hall of Fame, into which Pender was inducted last year, has found a permanent home this year for the first time since its inception in 2013, with framed photographs of more than four dozen inductees now hanging in the Sloppy Floyd government complex just steps from the state Capitol.
“We talk about doing things for veterans in this country, but we are forgotten,” said Pender, 78, who despite being formally retired works almost daily trying to help other veterans obtain disability payments related to their service. He can boast multiple military awards and inclusion in 10 other halls of fame, but this one is closest to his heart.
“To be inducted into the Georgia Military Hall of Fame, it’s just a lighting in my life,” he said.
That the hall ended up in the Sloppy Floyd building surprises no one — the complex houses the state’s Department of Veterans Service and a number of formal war memorials.
But that it exists at all has everything to do with the dedication of Pine Mountain resident Paul Longgrear, himself a decorated Army veteran who in 2012 attended a military hall of fame induction ceremony in his native Arkansas and left wondering why there wasn’t one in Georgia.
The 72-year-old Longgrear, who likes to joke that he’ll go anywhere and talk to anyone for a cup of coffee and a piece of pie, has paid for the hall solely through contributions and private donations. A golf tournament one year netted $500. So did a dove shoot. And Longgrear, a dedicated bridge player, has put on three bridge tournaments that have earned $2,500 for the cause.
“I wasn’t even thinking about a building” at first, Longgrear said. “To be honest with you, to show you how shortsighted I was, people would say, ‘where is it (the hall)?’ And I would say, ‘where is what?’”
The eventual plan is to create satellite locations throughout Georgia, perhaps something as small as electronic kiosks that family, friends and school children can use to look up information about the hall and its members. At Sloppy Floyd, state officials said there’s space for it to grow for another 15 years, bringing what state Veterans Service Commissioner Mike Roby called “well-deserved attention to some of Georgia’s finest veterans.
“We are so pleased to have been a part of giving the hall a home,” Roby added, “to create a public display where Georgia citizens can learn these veterans’ stories of valor, achievement and service.”