Much has been done, but there’s much more that can be done.
Honoring U.S. military veterans is a given each Nov. 11, but the theme of Richmond Hill’s Veterans Day observance ceremony was to do more to honor those who serve, and have served, this country.
Pristine weather, sunny skies and numerous American flags greeted attendees as they filtered into J.F. Gregory Park. Shortly after the ceremony began, Mayor Harold Fowler focused his brief remarks on a challenge for those in attendance.
“When we all walk away from this place today, we need to ask ourselves, ‘What more can we do to honor their legacy? How can we give them something more than a ceremony and a moment of gratitude?” he said.
Philip Wolfe of American Legion Post 27 in Richmond Hill spoke about the heroics of two U.S. military members and a friend who took down a terrorist on a train in France earlier this year. Airman 1st Class Spencer Stone, Army Spc. Alek Skarlatos and their friend, Anthony Sadler, took down the terrorist, who was armed with 270 rounds of ammunition. Nobody on the train was killed during the incident.
Wolfe said the American Legion doesn’t consider the actions of the men surprising. While taking nothing away from their heroics, “America’s military men and women risk life and limb every day so that we can be free,” he said, adding that they fight “for a cause greater than their self-preservation.”
However, Wolfe said, 1 in 4 of America’s homeless population is a veteran; of those, 9 in 10 were honorably discharged.
“This is hardly the thanks of a grateful nation. We must do better,” Wolfe said.
He stressed how important veterans are to communities, often working in emergency services and voting in higher percentages than non-veterans.
“Born of their extraordinary accomplishments comes our extraordinary debt,” he said. “For those accomplishments and for their dedication, we must always be grateful, we must always remember, that each veteran represents an oath that included a willingness to die for his country if called upon.”
Wolfe said the public has a responsibility to remind those who criticize the high cost of veterans’ benefits about the cost of being a veteran.
“It’s a cost of blood, sweat and sacrifice that has produced and protected this, the greatest nation on Earth,” he said.
The next speaker, Fausto Tenen of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 7331, was the first generation of his family born in the United States. As a little boy, when his father would take him to parades, he would see VFW members and wanted to emulate them.
“The way they treated boys and girls made an impact in my life. I always said to myself, ‘I want to be one of them,’” he said.
Later, as an adult and a veteran, Tenen was walking into Kroger when he was stopped by a woman. She said her son wanted to shake Tenen’s hand and thank him for his service, but was scared to do so. Tenen shook the boy’s hand and, at that moment, felt appreciated.
While it’s important to remember and honor the sacrifices of veterans, Tenen said, it’s also important to recognize military family members as well. He spoke from experience, as his wife and children had to deal with his deployments and move with him from state to state and leaving friends behind and keeping up in new schools.
“I want to say when you see a veteran, not only do you thank them, you also need to thank their families, too,” he said.
Guest speaker Lt. Col. Scott Shaw, of 3rd Battalion, 7th Infantry, 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, based on Fort Stewart, talked about the history of Veterans Day and how it initially was intended as a solemn day of remembrance of those who died in World War I. However, Veterans Day now is “a time of triumph,” a celebration of the heroism and sacrifices of service members.
“Today, I would ask that you celebrate with joy all that our veterans have done and continue to do for us,” he said.
Shaw then asked veterans in attendance to stand, which drew a round of applause as they rose.
Moments later, Fowler and Shaw laid a wreath at the park’s military memorial, and Bob Mock of Richmond Hill gave the brick dedication.
Emily Speer performed the national anthem at the beginning of the observance, and the Rev. Steve Lane gave the invocation and the benediction. The colors were presented by members of the 3rd Battalion, 7th Infantry on Fort Stewart.