Members of all U.S. military branches were honored for their sacrifices Sunday at 2 p.m. during the Missouri State Fair’s fifth Military Appreciation Day, a Show-Me Salute to all who served held inside the Mathewson Exhibition Center.
Many issues pertaining to their service in the military were on the minds of veterans at the event.
Sgt. Major (Ret.) Matthew Mullins, of Marshall, has attended the event with his wife, Patricia, since it was established by Gov. Jay Nixon in 2010. Mullins has served in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
“In combined total years for the military, I’ve spent 40,” he said. “There’s a lot of good people here. A lot of these veterans deserve a lot more than they are getting.”
Mullins said many active duty military and veterans suffer from maladies, injuries and PTSD caused by war and their service. Many are not getting the help they need. He encouraged those veterans that need help and also their families not to give up and not to lose hope.
“I’m a retired Sgt. Major, I’m the highest enlisted that they can go,” he said. “I don’t believe in suicide. If someone like you or me or anyone can speak to those people and clear their mind just a little bit they’ll survive. And whether it be for five minutes or two hours or maybe five days, if they can just get their mind clear for a little bit they will survive.”
Gene Wood, who served in Vietnam in the Army’s fourth infantry division, travelled with his wife, Judy, from LaPlata to attend the ceremony. The Woods have also been attending the event since it began in 2010. Wood served as a Sergeant E-5 in the Army in 1969-70.
“We’ve been coming here, and the reason is, when we came home we didn’t get much respect,” he said. “We’re finally getting the respect that we didn’t get when we came home.”
He said their small community has many veteran-oriented programs and when he heard about the appreciation ceremony he wanted to be part of the event.
“We think the ones coming back now need the attention and honor that we never got,” he added. “And I hope that some of the things we went through, has made it a little easier for them to get some of the benefits that we’ve been fighting for for quite some time.”
Wood also had thoughts and concerns for what veteran family members face day to day.
“So much of the time the family doesn’t get the respect that we get,” he added. “A lot of people don’t realize how much they have to go through as well. It’s not just one sided.
“People working with PTSD is important. I found out the hard way. Be sure and take care of it when you come home rather than put it off for 40 years.”
Richard Wagner Jr., of Mt. Leonard, was a staff sergeant in the Army from 1983-94 having served in Panama and Desert Storm; this was his first time to attend the ceremony.
“I’m in the American Legion and a couple people from there were coming down,” he said. “I’ll try to be here every year from now on, from what I saw.”
During the ceremony Master of Ceremonies Maj. Mike Roberts, Missouri National Guard, recognized 150 Patriot Guard Riders who rode their motorcycles into the Mathewson Center in support of the Military.
Remarks were presented by Col. Matthew Brooks, Vice Commander 509th Bomb Wing at Whiteman Air Force Base.
“We are fortunate to have the support of our local communities,” he said. “Our communities allow us to excel, to them the military is not some far off abstract.”
Also speaking were Maj. Gen. Leslie C. Smith, Commanding General of the United States Army Maneuver Support Center of Excellence at Ft. Leonard Wood, and Maj. Gen. Stephen L. Danner, Adjunct General Missouri National Guard.
Key note speaker was Dr. Tommy Macdonnell, 91, of Marshfield, a World War II veteran of the U.S. Army’s first Infantry Division. After leaving the service, Macdonnell eventually became an obstetrician who had delivered 5,000 babies during his career.
He returned to Omaha Beach for the 50th anniversary of the invasion, June 6, 1944, of which he took part, and took another trip to the site this year. Macdonnell, at 21, served as a sharpshooter in the 1st infantry Division that landed with the first wave of troops at Omaha Beach on D-Day.
He remembered losing many friends that day, and suffered from dreams of his friend Sam calling out to him. Macdonnell will always remember when the mortar dropped.
“Then everything was quiet,” he said. “Then like a flutter of birds a mortar came in.”
He was wounded by the shrapnel, but said he didn’t feel the pain.
“It didn’t hurt,” he said. “I had other things to think about.”
Wounded and bandaged, he eventually shot the the enemy.
“One shot’s all it took,” he said.
“There’s so much that could be told,” he added. “I don’t feel adequate, I’m humbled and not deserving to stand here with these men on the stage with me. You in the audience all have stories to tell. I’m just an ordinary soldier, who did what needed to be done.
“It may be hard, and it’s hard most of the time. It may be sad, and it is sad most of the time. War is hell.”
He encouraged the active military to not lose sight of their objective and to do what needed to be done.
“I salute you,” he added.