For nearly a century the 11th day of the 11th month has been set aside to honor those who have served and continue to serve in our nations military.
And on the 11th hour of that same day in 1918, when the Allies and Germany reached a truce to end World War I, Nov. 4 soon became internationally known as Armistice Day until 1954, when the holidays name was changed in order to remember all who had served the United States in any of it’s wars.
Though Veterans Day came this year at a time of day when many were engaged in worship, this historical date remained unbroken.
Sunday at 11 a.m. close to 50 people came together at the George Hart American Legion Post 167 in Harrisburg to thank veterans and current members of the military for their part in the preservation of the American way of life.
A smaller crowd gathered at the Old City Hall Veterans Memorial in Eldorado where the joint color guard held onto their flags the wind gusts threatened to carry away. The traditional placing of the wreaths was different this year as the wreathed were anchored to concrete blocks to keep them from blowing away.
In Harrisburg, as uniformed members of the honor guard crossed the Legions banquet hall to stand solemnly on either side of the podium, each carried a different flag. Rather it belonged to their military branch or served as a reminder of those missing in action. All eyes shifted towards the flag that united them all as the pledge of allegiance and the national anthem, sang by Teresa Pankey, began the day’s short but sincere program.
After an invocation by Mickey Pankey, several of the event’s distinguished guests and veterans were introduced, such as Sheriff Keith Brown, Circuit Judge Walden Morris, American Legion Post Commander Bill Wise and Senior Vice Commander Bob Williams. The event’s keynote speaker, Willie McCluskey, addressed the crowd shortly after.
McCluskey, a U.S. Naval veteran who served in Vietnam and the former Saline County Clerk of 12 years, spoke early on about the difference between Memorial Day and Veterans Day.
“On Memorial Day we gather and we honor those who have paid the ultimate price for the freedom you and I enjoy. But today we gather to honor all veterans that have served and put on the uniform,” he said.
As far as his own military experience went, McClusky refrained at first, saying that other than a few humorous moments, combat experiences aren’t something one tends to want to talk about.
He focused his speech on those who serve their country quietly, with less fanfare than those in combat.
“For those people come the same honor as those who put boots on the ground in a combat zone.” He said. “The reward for those who serve at home is the same, and each is just as important as the other.”
Page 2 of 3 - As his speech neared the end, those in attendance where taken aback as McCluskey shared one final story set during his time in Vietnam.
“I have a really vivid memory of being in a place where it was 130 degrees some days; where it was muddy sometimes, sandy sometimes, but miserable all the time,” he said. “There was about 40 Seabees gathered together in a place where we didn’t have any soap. And I’m telling you, you have to think about how bad that got. And one day, from some ol’ supply sergeant back in the United States, we got a case of Dial Soap sent over to us on a ship. Whoever that was will forever be one of my heros.”
Veterans day is set aside to honor all veterans from the top to the bottom, he said, everyone serves a purpose, from the private who takes the orders to the general who gives them.
In his closing remarks, McCluskey encouraged the audience to constantly keep in mind those currently in harms way.
“Always remember the men and women that put their lives on the line everyday, both in combat zones and in other places in the world that we’ve found to be just as dangerous as a combat zones.”
In Eldorado Korean War Veteran Chuck Hankins talked of the wars since World War I and listed the number of casualties and the injured in each.
“Those who either enlisted or were drafted took an oath and essentially wrote a check payable to the U.S. government saying ‘up to and including my life,’” Hankins said.
Hankins said there were over 116,000 deaths in World War I in 1917 and 1918 and over 204,000 wounded of about 3 million troops who served.
He knew one of the men who made it home from that war and who was a neighbor of his.
“He had been gassed and lived with the consequences of that all his life,” Hankins said.
Hankins attends reunions of the 2nd Infantry Division members who served in the Korean War and said he is proud a representative of the Department of Defense attends the reunions interviewing people in a dogged quest to identify those still missing in action from that war.
Only four or five years ago were all the remains of the soldiers killed in Korea identified by a forensic lab in Hawaii.
“All the remains were identified and the remains sent back to the states so there could be closure for the families,” he said.
Though on Veterans Day the focus is on those individuals who served, Hankins said their sacrifices are not the only ones to remember.
Page 3 of 3 - “A lot of times we forget the families,” Hankins said.
Children can grow up not having known their fathers who were serving. While the soldier is away the other parent must take on the job of two to operate the household. The sacrifices are great, but they are made for the benefit of all citizens.
“We also have the right to vote, own property, have religion of our choosing, public education, all the other things we know we have because we’re free,” Hankins said.
He also gave thanks to all the veterans organizations that help veterans receive their government benefits owed them.