Opinion: The Bond Between Atlanta's Business Community and Veterans

May 28, 2024

Katie Kirkpatrick highlighted her grandfather's story and MAC's work to ensure successful career transitions for our veterans.

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The following opinion editorial was written by Katie Kirkpatrick, president & CEO of the Metro Atlanta Chamber in the Atlanta Business Chronicle on May 27, 2024.

I’ve never been in combat. I’ve never been close to starvation, or had an arm amputated without anesthesia, or been a prisoner of war, or stood before a firing squad and lived to tell about it. My grandfather Grover D. Smitherman did all that in World War II. 

That’s why Memorial Day is so much more to me than a start-of-summer, three-day holiday. It’s a time to honor those who served, suffered and, in too many cases, died to preserve the freedoms we’ll celebrate later on July 4. It’s a time to remember that men and women still volunteer to go into harm’s way on our behalf. And it’s a time to dedicate ourselves to helping them successfully navigate the transition back into civilian life. 

Grover was a 27-year-old Alabama farmer when he enlisted in the Army and was shipped to Europe just in time to join the Normandy invasion. Asked later how low he crawled to get beneath the German machine-gun fire on the beach, he replied, “I would have had to get on my knees to see over a brick.” 

He didn’t get home until May 1946, returning as a highly decorated veteran with three Purple Hearts (one of which was for an amputated arm) and a regimental Presidential Citation. Every Memorial Day I reflect with gratitude on his courage and endurance. 

I also think about today’s veterans, especially what they go through when they return from service. It’s a professional priority here at the Metro Atlanta Chamber (MAC), where we continually explore ways to create a bridge for veterans crossing back into civilian life. Recently we gathered prominent Georgia companies to discuss the challenges of career transitions for veterans. We visit military bases in the state to solidify these connections. And our Metro Export Challenge specifically seeks ways to support veteran-owned businesses. 

The Chamber’s work on behalf of the military and its veterans has a long history. The impact of this work is widely felt today, even beyond the military community with major installations and a company presence that employs thousands of Georgians: 

  • Led efforts in 1941 to secure federal funding for what is now Dobbins Air Reserve Base. 
  • Helped recruit the Bell Bomber plant, which has become Lockheed Martin. 
  • Helped recruit Delta Air Lines to Atlanta from its location in Louisiana.  

This year Delta is continuing its tradition of flying D-Day veterans to Normandy, and I am elated to have the opportunity to join them for the June 6 commemorative events on 80th anniversary of D-Day.  

Every Memorial Day I remind myself that there is no way we can fully compensate veterans for their service, but in memory of my grandfather, there is no way I will stop trying.