GLENNVILLE, Ga. (WSAV) — Donnie Epperson is known for telling stories and playing many roles, including Santa Claus and Johnny Appleseed.
His latest character was a scarecrow on Halloween, reading to a fifth-grade class at South Tattnall Elementary School in Glennville.
Most see the man behind the costume, the man known as “Papa Donnie”.
“You can be in a restaurant or a grocery store, and you can walk in and you hear some child from 15 years ago say, ‘Hey, Papa Donnie!’ It gets to you,” he said.
Those children having bonded with “Papa Donnie”, whom they know from his many appearances and his former maintenance job with the Tattnall County School System.
21 years of memories. History — plastered on the walls of his office.
“Those kids, they get to your heart and especially those four-year-olds. I wouldn’t take nothing for that job… nothing in the world.”
Many of those students know about his previous life as a soldier when he was fighting for his country.
He joined the Army in February 1972.
“Vietnam was winding down, and they had stopped sending people over there. They sent me to Germany instead.”
He spent over three years there before leaving the military.
“I was working at a factory and I said, this is going nowhere. So, I jumped right back in that saddle again. Before I took off, I got married and had a son on the way.”
He spent time in the United States for several years before he was off to Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm.
Donnie retired from the military in December 1994 after 23 years of service.
He doesn’t talk much about what he saw in the Middle East, but he does remember it as a positive experience because of the brothers he made along the way.
Those brothers are honored now inside his home, his personal museum of memories.
“I’ve got my office outside. I’ve got the walls plastered with pictures. I look at those pictures and think and see some of these guys. And you remember the days you had them, and they’re not there anymore… it hurts.”
But, they will never be forgotten, and Donnie makes sure of that.
He honors them in a special way each Christmas through Wreaths Across America.
“That cemetery that’s right here in Glennville. You just drive through that place, and you look at all those graves out there… all the people that served our country and paid their life for it. As long as you say that person’s name, they’re not forgotten. It is worse to be forgotten more than anything. So as long as you can say that name, you’re not forgotten.”
Service — something he believes many people take for granted.
“I love my country. I love serving my country. I think everybody should do it. I love my veterans and all of those that have given their life for this country. I think we should honor them a little bit more than we do.”
Whether it is in a field of fallen heroes or in a classroom dressed as a book character, Donnie Epperson’s goal is to do one thing — make people smile and serve others.