Veteran of Year: Hayden served his country, community
By W. WINSTON SKINNER
Mel Hayden served his country in the Army and then came to Newnan to continue serving others.
Hayden was honored as Coweta County Veteran of the Year on Monday during the annual Veterans Day ceremonies at Veterans Memorial Plaza in the Newnan city park at Jackson Street and Temple Avenue. Veterans Day was Sunday, but the community ceremonies were held on the day set aside for the federal holiday.
He thanked Cowetans for caring about all veterans every day.
"All over the country today, communities like ours are having ceremonies like this one," Hayden said. "The difference is the way we do things in Coweta County."
Local veteran Dick Stender was master of ceremonies. Hayden has "a serving spirit," Stender said. "He does things that need to be done."
Sam Jones, publisher of The Newnan Times-Herald, talked about Hayden's service as executive director of Certified Literate Is Coweta's Key. CLICK, the local certified literate community organization, continues to promote literacy in Coweta County.
Jones described Hayden as "a veteran with a distinguished military career." Hayden "has served his country," Jones said. "He has also served his community."
Through his work with CLICK, Hayden grew "a very successful legacy that has improved a lot of lives and made this community a better place to live," Jones said.
Friend and White Oak Golden K Kiwanis member Malcolm Jackson described Hayden and his wife, Lucy as "the consummate Kiwanis team." He said Hayden "epitomizes community service."
Jackson said Hayden is "a very dedicated Kiwanian" and "a noble veteran." Hayden is "always so willing to serve," he added.
Jones compared Hayden to the Energizer bunny. "Mel Hayden just keeps going and going and going," he said. "He has the energy and the passion and the commitment to make" whatever he tackles "the most important thing going on."
Stender noted Hayden holds a PhD, calling him "one of those lofty, educated guys."
(To view photos from this event, please visit http://photos.times-herald.com/mycapture and click on Events / Newnan for the Photo Gallery.)
Hayden grew up "in a cotton mill village in South Carolina" and worked there in high school before spending a year at Clemson, Stender said. Hayden then joined the Army, where he spent 20 years.
Hayden recalled being assigned to something that sounded exciting – the Army Security Agency. "I never did get my cloak and dagger," he said. "They gave me a poncho and a bayonet."
He completed Officer Candidate School in 1959. Hayden said OCS helped him to have "great confidence in myself" and led to many lasting friendships.
Stender noted Hayden also took Airborne training, which involves "jumping out of airplanes" and went to Ranger School, which Stender described as "tough." The parachute jumps "help you overcome fear," Hayden said.
Hayden later had Special Forces Training and served in Vietnam. That experience fostered "an awareness of other cultures," Hayden said.
He also was part of a foray into Bolivia. "We sent troops into Bolivia to chase after Che Guevara – and we got him," Stender said. Hayden retired as a major in 1974.
Stender outlined some of Hayden's many military awards. "He also has his Good Conduct Medal, which I would expect him to have," he said.
Jones said efforts to revive local literacy initiatives in Coweta were undertaken in 1996. Certified literate community groups were expected to develop "a plan for tackling the problem on the local level," he said.
Jones said "Mel Hayden stepped forward," and the state eventually approved an application "that Mel ramrodded through." Jones said CLICK has met its goal of helping 6,600 Cowetans gain literacy skills and reached the goal using only $1,500 in government funds.
Jones said Hayden set up the General Equivalency Diploma graduation, which has honored people from their teens to octogenarians. "Mel Hayden was the driving force in the early years of setting that program on target and helping to achieve that goal," Jones said.
With Hayden at Monday's ceremonies were his wife; his son, Doug Hayden; his son and daughter-in-law, Mel and Angie Hayden; Lucy's daughter and son-in-law, Dana and Brett Mitchell; and several Kiwanis officials.
Stender said that in honoring Hayden, "we honor the spirit of every veteran who is here and who ever was."
Stender noted there were veterans from World War II at the ceremonies, as well as some who have served in Afghanistan. "Within our veteran community, there is a storehouse of memories," he said. "We have a library that goes from World War II to the current ar on terrorism."