Nearly 200 local veterans gathered outside the Veterans of Foreign War Post 6602 just prior to the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month.
During a moment of silence observed with the ringing of a bell, veterans past and present took time to remember and honor the service of those gone before them, from the “War to end all wars,” as World War I was called, to current, persistent conflicts.
The moment was supported by Hinesville Police Department whose officers stopped traffic on E.G. Miles Highway for just a minute as Hinesville and the nation remembered its veterans.
“These veterans put their lives on the line,” the Master of Ceremonies Paul Spence told veterans and family members gathered for the Veterans Day ceremony. “They did this for our country without any expectation of thanks. So when you shake their hand today and say, ‘Thank you for your service,’ it’ll give them a warm, fuzzy feeling.”
Tuesday’s ceremony began with posting of the colors by the 3rdInfantry Division color guard. The posting was followed by the pledge of allegiance then the national anthem. Special guests were introduced then, one by one, ceremonial wreaths were laid around the flagpole, starting with the wreath for the Prisoners of War/Missing in Action.
Wreaths were then laid for each local veterans’ service organization and ladies auxiliary, starting with the host, VFW Post 6602, Commander Kenny Geackel. When the wreaths were laid and the bell ceremony was observed, taps was played in memory of all veterans no longer present to observe this special day for veterans.
Guest speaker for this year’s ceremony was Brig. Gen. James Blackburn, 3rd ID deputy commanding general-maneuver. Blackburn’s wife, Carla, and his father, also James Blackburn, attended Tuesday’s ceremony. Blackburn Sr. said he’s a Korean War-era veteran who served in France with the Dental Corps during that war.
After recognizing and thanking the junior reserve officer training corps cadets and Boy Scouts assisting with the day’s ceremony, Blackburn began his remarks by reminding veterans how they still are serving today, though some unknowingly.
“Some of you may know the Army has started a campaign called the Soldier for Life Campaign,” Blackburn said. “What it does is recognize the value of the continued service you provide out of uniform, just as you did in uniform. As you saw with the young JROTC kids out here, you’re still mentors. You’re still leaders.”
While apologizing for asking them to stand one more time, he asked for all the veterans to please stand so they could be recognized. Nearly everyone attending stood and applauded each other. Blackburn noted the number standing and said many of those standing, like himself, represented generational service.
“Generations of soldiers have become veterans,” he said. “They’ve done so in cold wars; they’ve done so in warm wars; and they’ve done so in hot wars. And that’s what makes this country so great because there has never been a shortage of young people willing to fight and defend this country.”
Blackburn quoted President Dwight D. Eisenhower who said that history does not entrust the care of freedom to the weak or the timid.
“Today, Americans are gathering in parks and community centers everywhere to show how much they appreciate our service,” he said. “Their freedom was not entrusted to you because you were weak … or because you were timid. You were strong, and you were decisive.”
He told the veterans they continue to be strong and decisive as Soldiers for Life. Blackburn again thanked veterans for their service and everyone for being at Tuesday’s ceremony.
Just as VFW Post 6602 Chaplain Donald Spencer was about to deliver the invocation, he said there was something he had to say.
“Those of you veterans out there who were holding your hand over your heart during the pledge and national anthem — you’re wrong,” Spencer said. “You’re a veteran! You’ve earn the right to salute your flag for the rest of your life.”