Harrisburg and Eldorado honored veterans Monday with formal services followed by celebratory meals at their respective American Legions.
A small crowd stood at Locust Street across from the Veterans Memorial at the Eldorado Old City Hall for a short service that involved heavy words from a former Marine.
In Harrisburg, inside a steel gray American Legion building, a sea of red, white, and blue clad men and women sat at tables talking as the aroma of spaghetti hung through the air. Monday, about 100 veterans and their families assembled to remember veterans in an annual memorial service.
The practice of the service was started when Commander Bill Wise and has been continuing its tradition of honoring those who served for years. This memorial service is held once every year on Nov. 11th at precisely 11 a.m., the exact date, the exact time that World War I officially ended according to service coordinator Allan Parlich.
Parlich is not like his other friends. He has never seen war. He has never served in a war. Yet, he wore a Legion cap and stood as an attentive soldier at the podium as the ceremony began. Four men entered the front of the room, the first carrying a rifle, the second holding an American flag. The third carried a Legion flag, while the fourth also carried a rifle. After an opening prayer by local pastor Brad Vinyard, the Color Guard of the Legion stood at the front as Parlich gave commands.
"All rise for the pledge of allegiance," Parlich said.
Hands crossed hearts, some saluted as Boy Scout Troop 23 member Colton Vaughn lead the group in the pledge. After the pledge, local singer "Mama T" took the podium to sing the "Star Spangled Banner." At the song's conclusion, veterans and families took their seats as Parlich introduced State's Attorney Mike Henshaw to take the podium to deliver the service's speech.
Henshaw took the podium. His opening statements brief, cordial, merely skimming the surface of a deeper message.
"Welcome. To say the least, I am extremely honored to be speaking to you on such an important day as this. We are here to honor the sacrifices these men have made to help us keep our freedoms. Today, we honor those sacrifices. Would all men who have served please stand?" he said.
All veterans stood.
The families needed no direction.
"Your sacrifices helped secure the basic freedoms we enjoy today," he said.
Henshaw then asked the families of the servicemen to stand.
"We live in difficult times. You took up the burden of keeping a family and a home with the absence of a spouse. Thank you," he said.
Henshaw then turned his attention back to the veterans.
Page 2 of 4 - "These men were called to be something bigger than themselves. Since the first shots at Lexington and Conord, American men and women have been stepping up to protect the freedoms of this nation. May we and all future generations ahead of us step up to the cause of defending this great country."
Despite the joys of seeing men and women return home, the families realized not everyone was as fortunate.
"Nothing can ever replace the holes left behind when a serviceman dies for his cause," Henshaw read.
Families in the room felt the dread they once feared themselves. Like ice-wind over a foreign ocean where war raged on blood-stained beaches. Even the slightest notion of never coming home deadened the already quieted room.
"What we do here," Henshaw continued," is not much, but it's one way to honor these men and women. It's a way to say, 'We remember,'" he said.
Henshaw concluded his speech by covering every war that ever included American soldiers.
"From the streets of Paris, to the jungles of Vietnam, to the sand-coated hills of Afghanistan, we must never forget," he said.
Then silence again, as Henshaw stepped down.
Parlich took the podium again. Drawing attention to the American flag then drawn.
The colors of the flag represent elements of the war itself.
"Red stands for the blood that was shed," Parlich began. "The blue represents the color of Heaven, white represents the innocence that was destroyed by war. The 50 stars represent the fifty states."
Parlich once again gave "Mama T" the podium as she encouraged everyone to join her in a rendition of "God Bless America." All stood singing a capella, unrehearsed, unprepared, pure, honest.
After the song, a moment of silence followed as the Color Guard was called to attention, arms drawn, flags stretched forward as a recording of TAPS played gently in the room. The end of the song signified the end of the ceremony and Parlich commanded the Guard to retire arms and they left as the ceremony was dismissed.
Over spaghetti, servicemen and their families talked happily. Most mixed and mingled, some chose to say very little.
There was one such veteran, tall, stocky, with a relaxed manor that one would never guess came from the jungles of Vietnam, who stood talking to friends. His experiences were recounted. He wished not to identify himself.
"I served in Vietnam," he said.
He comes to the Legion building daily, but this day marks a special occasion for him.
"The best thing about this ceremony is that veterans get remembered. I think some people take the military for granted," he said.
His words were true and passionate yet his voice was barely above a whisper.
Page 3 of 4 - On Veteran's Day, he spends most of his time reflecting.
He can't help it.
"Reflection is automatic," he said, "you don't have to think about it."
When asked if he is bitter, his lips thinned and formed half of a smile. It's as if he's learned that bitterness is in fact one of the fueling emotions behind death and destruction.
"Not anymore," he said.
An even bigger problem comes to mind though after he was asked if he had seen much support for veterans in the community itself.
"I don't think there is anything in the community that really shows support for veteran's other than this event here," he said.
Now that he is out of the service, his thoughts lie with the men and women who are not home right now. The ones who are taking his place in the wars being fought today.
"I think about the families and what they're going through," he says.
His own mother worried for him when he was away.
"I wasn't there to hear or see how she actually felt, but I don't have to. I know what she was feeling."
His message to those families who have someone currently serving in any form of the military, "They all have my support," he says. "Whether I agree with the war or not, we must always support our men and women who are fighting for us."
Despite all of these years of coming to peace with what happened in Vietnam, there are still factors here in his home country that continue to bother him.
"One of the things my friends and I were talking about before the service started is that not everyone can or will take the day off," he said.
He understands some people do not have a choice, yet seeing people treat Veteran's Day as if it were just another ordinary day frustrates him, though he'd never show it.
"We don't want it to be two or three days long," he says, "we just want one day where everyone can reflect and honor those who served and are serving."
According to him, war is never a good thing no matter where it's being fought or when it's being fought.
"War is war and it's bad. Anyone who goes through it will change. You can't not change. You can't stay sane if you don't change," he said.
But it's not the hardest thing in the world for him.
"Changing back is what's hardest," he said.
In Eldorado former U.S. Marine Timothy Sears echoed those themes, saying some veterans need much more than thanks and handshakes.
"When they come home to family and friends, some find it hard to reenter life," Sears said.
Page 4 of 4 - Many have heads full of unanswerable questions.
"Questions plague some veterans like 'Why am I still alive?' and 'Could I have done more?'" he said.
Depression among veterans is a problem.
"Ladies and gentlemen, veterans commit suicide every day," he said.
"Is a handshake and a 'Thank you' enough? No. Try asking them how they are doing."
The Eldorado service began with a march from American Legion to the Old City Hall, the Rev. Russell Helton asking the Invocation and ending with Benediction and Madeline and Lydia Rogers singing the national anthem.
Wreaths of the VFW Post 3479, American Legion Post 169, VFW Auxiliary Unit 3479, American Legion Unit 169, VFW Mens Auxiliary 3479, SAL Squadron 169, Michael Hillegas Chapter of Daughters of the American Revolution.
The Joint Honor Guard Firing Squad fired a 21-gun salute and "Taps" was played.