Remembering, honoring and thanking all American veterans both living and dead was the message presented throughout the annual Veterans Day Ceremony hosted on the steps of the Pettis County Courthouse Wednesday morning.
American Legion Post 642 Secretary Paul Bennett, emcee for the event, reminded those attending the ceremony the day was to honor those who survived the war.
“Many Americans mistakenly believe that Veterans Day is a day that America sets aside to honor military personnel who died in battle or as a result of wounds in combat,” he said. “That’s not true. Memorial Day is set aside to honor America’s war dead. Veterans Day, on the other hand, honors all American veterans both living and dead.
“In fact, Veterans Day is largely intended to thank veterans for dedicated and loyal service to their country,” he added. “Nov. 11 of each year is a day that America remembers veterans. America deeply appreciates the sacrifices they have made in their lives to keep our country free.”
Bennett introduced guest speaker Smith-Cotton High School JROTC Senior Army Instructor Lt. Col. Harry Cunningham. Cunningham, who served 26 years in the U.S. Army, is retired.
“We are grateful to our veterans and we honor you today,” Cunningham said. “Our nation owes a great debt to its veterans whose service spans every decade and continues everyday of our country’s existence.”
He added that Veterans Day was instituted 96 years ago by President Woodrow Wilson to remember those who served in World War I.
“Today the nature of our observance has changed,” he noted. “We now celebrate Veterans Day on the anniversary of the armistice not only to remember and honor veterans from World War I, but all veterans who have served our great country. Both in times of peace and in prosperity.”
He said service members today come from all walks of life but they share many qualities: “courage, pride, determination, selflessness, dedication to duty and integrity.”
“Many of them did not ask to leave their homes to fight on distant battlefields,” he noted. “Many did not even volunteer. They did not go to war because they loved fighting. They were called to be a part of something larger than themselves.”
Cunningham stated veterans are “ordinary people” who banded together in “extraordinary ways” in dire and dangerous situations.
“They rose to the nation’s call,” he added. “They wanted to protect a great nation that had given them and all of us so much.”
He cited a Veterans Day exhibit, last week, in the basement of SCHS that honored all of the “fallen veterans” in Missouri. Notes expressing love from parents, siblings and children had been attached to photos of the veterans.
“Particularly poignant were the pictures of the children, wives and the husbands who were left behind,” he said. “Your presence here today and people gathering all across America … is a tribute to all veterans and to their families. It is a way that we say ‘we remember.’”
At the close of his presentation, Cunningham asked the crowd if they knew how to thank a veteran.
“Americans can thank them by living their lives and enjoying America’s greatness,” he said. “Americans can thank veterans by taking full advantage of the rights that they so nobly defended.”
He encouraged all to vote, to participate in civic activities, to write a letter to a newspaper editor, to perform jury duty, to be a volunteer firefighter, to mentor a child and represent the country well as a “productive citizen.”
“We honor every soldier, sailor, airman, marine and coast-guardsmen who gave the best years of their lives to the service at the United States of America,” he added. “Twenty-five million military veterans walk among us and on this day our nation salutes them all.”
During the event the SCHS New Score Singers sang “Salute to the Armed Forces” before the event and also sang patriotic songs during the wreath-laying ceremony.
Faith Bemiss can be reached at 530-0289 or @flbemiss.