The sacrifices members of the United States Military have made in service to others have been numerous and continue to be so to this day.
Saturday afternoon was a coming together of veterans from WWII to Korea, Vietnam, Iran and Iraq and Afghanistan with their families to form bonds of remembrance and support at the 11th annual Veteran’s Appreciation Barbecue.
“I consider today and every day to be a call to action for the men and women who have served,” Maj. John T. Schwent Jr., of the USMC, told the large crowd gathered at the parking lot on Second Street. “We must do more to help those in need who are actively serving today and those who have served in the past.
“God bless this community for coming together in this cross-generational event to make this happen for these brave individuals,” Schwent said in his remarks. “We need to be able to connect and form these special bonds. It is of the utmost importance.”
Schwent is the executive director of Camp Valor Outdoors, an organization that helps veterans who are ill, injured or wounded reconnect with the outdoors and events that gave them a sense of purpose.
“We have 50 acres outside Kingsville where these veterans can come and reconnect to the outdoors in all kinds of activities,” Schwent said. “They can come and just sit around a campfire if they want to, because in the coming together, that’s where the healing begins.”
Schwent told those gathered that since 1989, 25,000 Americans have died in combat in service to their country and others.
“As troubling as that number is, since that same date, 125,000 service people have died by suicide,” he added. “That is 22 a day and we have to help end this tragedy.”
The day’s first keynote speaker, 4th District U.S. Rep. Vicky Hartzler, told the audience that one of her primary goals while serving in the House has been to improve the rights of veterans and their families.
Hartzler serves on the Armed Forces Committee in Congress.
“I truly do appreciate all the men and women who have served our country and the sacrifices they have made,” Hartzler said after her remarks. “It truly is an honor to meet these individuals and the people of Pettis County should be proud of this event and I hope it becomes an example for other communities to follow.”
Jim Gaertner, president of the Central Missouri Veterans Association, was also very pleased with the event.
“The Lord has really blessed us today with good food, two great speakers and a wonderful group of veterans and their families,” Gaertner said. “The reason we are here is to remind Rep. Hartzler and everyone here to continue to fight for all veterans and their rights.
“For me personally, this event is a way to keep a promise I made to keep the memory alive of those who served for all of their sacrifices and their service,” Gaertner added. “My best friend Michael Waters died in combat on June 30, 1970. I was with him when he died and it’s for him and the countless others that we continue to do this.”
After Hartzler spoke, Gaertner presented her with a photograph of Waters and said that perhaps it would help to remind her of all those who have served and their continuing needs after their discharge from the military.
“I serve on a number of committees and veterans’ organizations,” Schwent said. “Often I hear talk of the number of members who belong to these organizations.
“I think maybe it is time to change the focus and emphasis of that,” he added. “Maybe it’s time to not concentrate so much on the numbers but where I think the great need is, is to form the friendships and support between each other.
“The numbers will come,” Schwent concluded. “But the people and the bonds should always be first and foremost.”
Hope Lecchi can be reached at 660-826-1000 ext. 1484