But Jantzen Childers wasn’t about to let the wind and driving rains of Wednesday dampen the festivities at the Union Army National Guard Armory.
“We’re going to honor our veterans whether it’s in here or out there,” the chairman of the Veterans Day Parade Committee and program emcee told the packed armory. “We want them to know we love them.”
And that’s how the 2009 Union County Veterans Day Program began. It had all the pomp and circumstance appropriate for a day deemed for remembering those brave men and women who have served and currently are serving in the military to uphold the ideals, principles and freedom of this country.
The 2009 installment had music, celebration and all the time to remember and honor veterans from Union County and around the country.
Childers recognized the Blue Star and Gold Star mothers — those with current active duty children or those who have lost children to war — in attendance like Azilee Ashe of Lockhart who lost her son Frankie Barbee in August 1966 during the Vietnam War.
He and those in attendance also honored the 2009 Veterans Day Parade Marshall, even though he was unable to attend, U.S. Army World War II veteran Jack Wilburn and Union County’s 2009 Veteran of the Year the Rev. Aubrey Calvert who also is a U.S. Army veteran.
There also was a time to recognize all those veterans in attendance at the program — from World War II through today’s conflicts. Several of those who stood did so for multiple reasons.
“I don’t know if all y’all noticed, but some of these guys just don’t know when to quit fighting,” Childers said about those who sacrificed to serve in more than one conflict.
World War II veteran Bill Owenby, Korea veteran I.G. Vanderford and Vietnam veteran Bill Montgomery placed a wreath under the list of veterans from Union County who had passed away to honor and remember them.
The crowd also had the opportunity to see the winning posters 36 Union County students in grades kindergarten-5 created as part of the first Veterans Day Poster Contest to honor those who serve.
“This Veterans Day again finds us in a time of war,” said program guest speaker and Gulf War and Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran Tim Driggers. “But we are safer today than we were on Sept. 11 and we remain, as we have for the last 230 years, a free people. There’s no mystery behind the endurance and success of our American liberty.”
The Union native spoke of all those Americans who have stepped up to defend their country and said every one of them deserve the country’s thanks and admiration.
Driggers said while in uniform it is the duty of members of the U.S. Armed Forces to keep the interests of their nation first, but while they are gone their families and loved ones also make sacrifices.
“Every man and woman who wears a United States uniform is part of a long line,” he said.
None have done more.
“This is a legacy we can be proud of,” Driggers said.
There’s a unique fellowship among veterans, he added. They love their country and believe in its cause, knowing first-hand the world is a better place because of its values and principles.
Driggers told the story of a little boy who visited Anzio in Italy with his father. He and his father walked through the crosses marking the final resting place of the proud men and women who died there during World War II.
The father told his son to read the names and the birth and death dates on each cross they passed as those buried there “made the extreme and last sacrifice.” The boy’s father told him he owed everything to those soldiers and he should never forget what they did for him.
That boy — Silvio Berlusconi — grew up to become the current Prime Minister of Italy.
Driggers said veterans’ common cause is liberty, justice and peace. Millions breathe and live today because of them and while many have died, many are still with us today.
“They’ve fought our wars, defended our shores and they’ve kept us free,” he said.
Driggers said while many kids his age looked outside their hometowns for heroes, he found them right here in Union County in the form of two people — one being Childers. In fact, during the first battle of his combat experience in the Gulf War he asked himself what would Childers do if he were in the same situation.
“I figured it out quickly and we’re here today,” Driggers said.
Before handing the ceremony back over to one of his childhood heroes, Driggers told the crowd that honoring veterans should be more than just a one-day-a-year occurrence.
“Remember, always thank a veteran,” he said. “Always thank them for what they’ve done and always thank them for what you have.”
The program ended with “Taps” performed by Ronnie Lybrand and a closing prayer from U.S. Army veteran Tyra Parham.
But not before Childers could remind those in attendance to thank a veteran.
He had a young girl hand him a note a few years ago while speaking to students. Inside that note, the girl thanked Childers for his service.
“That really meant a lot,” he said. “Remember, as Tim said, be sure to always thank a veteran.”
UNION HOSPITAL DISTRICT SALUTES VETERANS
The Union Hospital District also honored veterans on Wednesday with a brief ceremony at Wallace Thomson Hospital. Members of the district board of trustees and public helped recognize 44 staff members who are veterans or family members of veterans or both during the program. District CEO Bill Leonard also recognized Sgt. Rodney Johnson who is currently an active member of the South Carolina Army National Guard.